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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

13 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory

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13 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory

Life is made up of memories, what you have seen, heard, and done. Every bit of information you take in is only useful if you can remember it at the right time. How can you improve memory and ensure information is there when you need it?

There are many scientific theories and observations on how memories work. These theories provide us with an understanding of how feelings, routine, context, and recollection affect our memories. Here are some tips backed by scientific insights for improving memory.

1. Method of Loci

Method of Loci is a popular mnemonic technique that helps you recollect a large amount of information.[1] It works by utilizing your spatial and navigational skills as you envision your memories as part of a geographical entity. This is the technique that the famous fictional detective Sherlock calls the Mind Palace.

memory techniques loci

    This method is extremely useful when you are preparing for a speech or an exam[2]. Here is how you can make use of it:

    • Visualize a space you are most familiar with. It could be your home, your favorite park, or your school.
    • Construct the rooms, shelves, furniture, and everything inside it in your mind.
    • Imagine yourself keeping the items you want to remember in each of the rooms or in/on/around specific objects.
    • Next time you want to remember something, walk through room by room to recall what you placed there.

    Repeating this exercise has proven to be a great way to improve memory and remember loads of information with ease.

    You can learn more about this method in this article: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

    2. Acronyms

    Acronyms are proven to be very effective in memorizing a group of words. Research has shown that our brains are better at retrieving things when we associate meaning to them.[3] This is why recollecting a single meaningful word or phrase is easy compared to trying to remember a list of words.

    For instance, to memorize the directions on the compass, you can use the acronym NEWS (North, East, West, and South); or, when you want to remember the Great Lakes basin, you can make us of the acronym HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), etc.

    Make up your own acronyms to the list of things you want to remember. All you need to do is list the things that you want to memorize and arrange them in an order such that the first letter of each word spells a real word.

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    3. Rhyming

    There is a reason why rhymes are still a popular way to teach kids. Our brains are great at acoustic encoding, which means breaking down sound structures.[4] We can easily remember stuff when they sound similar.

    The peg method can help you out. You first need to memorize the list in the exact order given below:

    one = bun

    two = shoe

    three= tree

    four = door

    five = hive

    six = sticks

    seven = heaven

    eight = gate

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    nine = vine

    ten = hen

    After you have memorized this list, now connect the first word to bun, second word to shoe, and so on. This will help you in making a memorable connection.

    Another way is to construct rhymes on the information you want to remember. For instance, if you want to remember that Mr. Jones runs a real-estate business, you can remember him with a rhyme:Mr. Jones from Homes.

    Although this may seem a bit weird and funny, this method will help you to improve memory overall.

    4. Linking

    This is a useful technique to help you stay sharp in many everyday scenarios, like remembering shopping lists. This is a visualization and association technique where you associate meaning to visual imagery. However, it is important to ensure that the images stored in your mind are as vivid as possible.

    For instance, if you want to remember a set of items, just link them up in a story. Let’s say that you want to remember the South England countries: Avon, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Somerset, Surrey, and Wiltshire.

    You can link all these countries in the form of a story to improve memory. An AVON lady is looking for a house. She is sweating and thirsty due to high SUMMER (Somerset). Along the way, she came across a giant CORN (Cornwall), but it is about to WILT (Wiltshire), etc.

    5. Chunking

    Very few people bother to remember phone numbers by heart nowadays. But what if you lose your contacts and need a way to recollect those long numbers? This memory technique will be handy in those situations.

    Chunking is basically breaking down the information into smaller pieces that are easy to remember. Start with a small number, say 379372518. Break it to three chunks 378 372 518. Improve your skills every day by trying to remember more numbers this way.

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    6. Write It Down

    Writing stimulates your reticular activating system (RAS).[5] So whenever you are trying to learn something and improve memory, try writing it down. Review what you have written and test yourself.

    You can also hand draw memory maps to further develop your memorization power.

    7. Be Busy

    Repeat all your brain exercises regularly and keep testing yourself to get better. A recent study revealed that our brain needs to be busy to keep itself fit as well.[6]

    Test yourself repeatedly if you want to retain the correct information for the longest time.

    Take walks or indulge in some physical activities as well. Research shows that healthy people who exercise regularly have better memories than those who don’t.

    8. Give Yourself a Good Sleep

    Sleeping is very much necessary if you want to improve memory. A tired body that lacks sleep will not be able to recollect or retain information effectively. Rest well and make sure your body and mind are rejuvenated every day.

    Furthermore, studies show that a lack of sleep can increase risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease[7]. Do your body and mind a favor and get a good night’s sleep as often as possible.

    9. Eat Healthy

    Try to include more memory-boosting fruits and vegetables into a healthy diet to improve memory. A study conducted by Harvard medical school backs this as well. Scientists believe that the antioxidants and vitamins from vegetables and fruits help to reduce oxidative stress in the brain and help battle age-related memory issues.[8]

    Learn about the brain foods you should include in your diet: 12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health

    10. Play Video Games and Brain Training Apps

    Now here is a fun way to improve memory. Playing video games may not seem the best way to study for an exam, but regular video game playing can actually improve certain memory-associated regions of the brain. Studies have shown that video games helps in total knowledge recall and can reduce dementia risk.[9]

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    Considering the benefits, maybe you can make brain training apps a regular pastime or something to do on your breaks.

    11. Think of the Ways in Which Things Relate to You

    According to a recent research, you can boost your memory considerably by contemplating why the information is important to you.[10] This signals your brain to convert the short-term memories into long-term ones, thus helping you remember effortlessly.

    12. Exercise Regularly

    You might not see this coming, but people who exercise daily, whether it be leisurely walking or long-distance running, have better memories when compared to their counterparts who do no physical activity.[11]

    If you’re really interested in learning how to improve memory, shoot for aerobic exercises to reduce cognitive decline and increase blood flow.

    13. Pay Attention to Essence

    Although practice makes perfect, this might not necessarily be true when it comes to boosting memory. Scientists have found that while repetitive practice could help you in remembering things, you might miss out on the bigger picture.[12]

    Do you remember that one presentation when you memorized everything by heart without giving much thought to it? What happened next? Someone interrupted in the middle, and you were not able to recall information after.

    Thus, rote repetition will not do any good. You need to complement repetition through a proper understanding of the finer details.

    The Bottom Line

    Sharpening your memory is not rocket science. All you need to do is follow the fun and simple ways mentioned above to improve memory, and eat right to boost your brain health!

    For more tips on boosting your memory, check out the following video:

    More on How to Improve Memory

    Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Published on August 9, 2021

    12 Best Brain Foods To Help You Focus Like A Laser

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    12 Best Brain Foods To Help You Focus Like A Laser

    Do you ever feel like your brain can function better than it is currently? Have you ever had moments of laser sharp focus and wished they stayed with you forever?

    We have all had those moments where we found ourselves being super productive and having lengthened periods of concentration and focused attention, and if there was a way we could make such kind of mental state a permanent state for us, we would definitely go for it.

    And while we cannot make the state come back and stick with us forever in just an instant, there is a way we can slowly cultivate it in our lives in the long term.

    One of these ways is by being keen on eating brain boosting foods. Some foods enhance the regions of the brain that are linked to concentration, focus, reasoning, thinking abilities, and overall brain health. By eating these foods regularly, you can also improve your brain function and slowly work to a healthy and well performing brain.

    Let’s take a closer look at the 12 best brain foods to take to boost your focus and overall mental health.

    1. Coffee

    Coffee is among the most popular beverages that sharpen your focus and increase productivity. Millions of people across the world rely on it to help them through demanding tasks at work and assignments at school.

    The reason why coffee has proven to be effective over the years is due to the two components in it that largely enhance the brain.

    These components are antioxidants and caffeine.

    Antioxidants help with protecting the brain from common mental health conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.[1][2]

    Caffeine, on the other hand, is responsible for influencing the brain in various positive ways including blocking out a brain chemical called Adenosine that makes you want to sleep and increasing the levels of serotonin neurotransmitters which in turn boosts your mood, increase your level of alertness and concentration.[3][4][5][6]

    However, it is important to note that taking coffee with moderation is the way to make the most of it. If you take more than 4 cups a day, you might be setting yourself up for the nasty side effects that come with it which are restlessness and inability to sleep.[7]

    Striking a good balance between coffee and other beverages will help you avoid the chances of experiencing the side effects. You can try drinking coffee only on those days you want to tackle tedious tasks, and only when you are working on them to maximize its effects in your life.

    2. Fatty Fish

    When the words fatty fish are mentioned, you naturally direct your attention to salmon, pollack, cod, sardines, mackerel and tuna.

    These contain omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to help with improving learning abilities and memory, not to mention helping with building nerve and brain cells.[8][9][10][11]

    Improved cognitive performance brought about by omega 3 fatty acids can be attributed to the fact that they help increase flow of blood in the brain. [12]

    Also, when it comes to general mental health, eating oily or fatty fish helps to delay the mental decline that comes with age, as well as depression and reduce learning problems. [13] [14]

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    Omega 3 has also been associated with the lowering of the protein called Beta-amyloid in the brain that is responsible for forming destructive clamps in people who struggle with Alzheimer’s.[15]

    You are encouraged to add fatty fish to your eating plan and consider having it often.

    Also, if you would like to obtain omega 3 fatty acids without having to feel like you have to eat fish every time, you can use other alternatives such as walnuts, flaxseeds and avocados. They are also good sources of omega 3.

    3. Maca

    Maca is a plant from Peru that is grown in Central Andes and has been cultivated a little over 2000 years now. Its scientific name is Lepidium meyenii and is used as a foodstuff as well as a medicinal plant.

    It is said to bring about many health benefits including boosting learning abilities and memory, improving mood, increasing energy levels and endurance, improving sexual health in men, and regulating blood pressure.[16]

    When it comes to the mental health benefits, Peruvian natives in the Central Andes attribute their children’s good academic performance to regular use of maca.[17]

    While there are different varieties of maca, studies have found that the black variety is the one that shows strong effects on mental health improvement, and both hydroalcoholic maca extract and boiled aqueous maca extract have the same effect on the brain.[18]

    Scientific studies on maca are still in their infancy and the cause of the effects that it has shown are not yet fully established. However, it is suggested that Macamides, which are maca compounds, might be behind its potency.[19]

    You can add maca to your smoothies, energy bars, oatmeal, and any baked foods to enjoy its benefits.

    4. Green Tea

    Green tea is another known stimulant that helps you remain alert. It contains two compounds that go a long way in influencing the brain.[20]

    First, it contains caffeine which accounts for the alertness.

    Although coffee contains a much higher quantity of caffeine than green tea, the latter is found suitable to use for those who prefer a well toned effect of caffeine.

    Caffeine helps with regulating neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine and adenosine, as earlier mentioned, that helps with keeping you awake and in good balance in terms of moods and brain function.[21][22]

    Second, it contains. L-theanine.

    L-theanine is an amino acid that can cross the blood-brain barrier and into the brain which then promotes increase in GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid) which promotes relaxation.[23][24][25]

    It also increases the alpha waves in the brain which are responsible for the calm, conscious and relaxed mental state.

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    When L-theanine and caffeine are combined, they both have a much powerful effect, and this explains why taking green tea for many people has been found more rewarding than coffee.

    L-theanine has also been linked to other mental health benefits such as improving memory and protection from mental illnesses like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.[26][27]

    Taking green tea in the morning and just before going for a physical exercise helps.

    5. Green Leafy Vegetables

    Greens are packed with nutrients that enhance the brain in great ways. Broccoli, Swiss chards, kales, dandelion greens, collards and spinach are among the vegetables that have high nutritional value that make them useful for brain health.

    Broccoli, for instance, has antioxidants and Vitamin K, among other plant compounds that contribute to better memory, anti-inflammatory effects and brain protection benefits.[28][29][30]

    Kale is heavily packed with nutrients like Vitamin A, B6, C, K, potassium, manganese, copper and calcium that promote brain development, slowing cognitive decline caused by age, depression and even various health conditions like Alzheimer’s.[31][32][33][34]

    Generally, leafy vegetables contain a variety of nutrients including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that elevate various regions of the brain that are associated with memory, alertness, processing of information and overall brain health.

    Working with delicious green smoothies and recipes that use a lot of greens will largely contribute to a better functioning brain.

    6. Dark Chocolate

    Other than the sweet taste, dark chocolate also boosts your brain.

    It contains three compounds that make this possible, which are, caffeine, antioxidants and flavonoids.

    Since we have already seen that caffeine offers the stimulating effects that keep you alert and antioxidants help with keeping mental illnesses and cognitive decline at bay, let’s take a closer look at flavonoids.

    Flavonoids are micronutrients that reduce neuroinflammation, protect neurons from neurotoxin-based injury and are potentially effective in enhancing learning, cognitive performance and memory.[35][36] [37]

    Studies have also revealed that dark chocolate brings about a positive feeling.[38]

    Dark chocolate contains cacao, which is often referred to as cocoa. Aiming to eat dark chocolate that carries more than 70% cocoa ensures that you get optimal benefits from it.

    7. Nuts

    Nuts such as walnuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, to name a few, contain several brain improving nutrients.

    They come with the popular antioxidant, Vitamin E, that protects the brain cells and cell membranes from oxidative stress and damage by free radicals.[39][40][41]

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    Long term consumption of nuts has contributed to a sharper memory, better academic performance and lower risks of getting mental illnesses too.[42][43]

    They have also shown abilities to improve the factors that account for good heart and brain health.

    All nuts have their nutritional benefits but you are encouraged to eat walnuts more as they have a much higher value due to the presence of high levels of alpha-linolenic acid, which is a type of omega 3 fatty acid.

    8. Avocado

    Avocado is surprisingly a berry, and it is referred to as a big berry.

    Although it hasn’t been fully studied yet, it is believed to carry vitamins B5, B6, C, E and K. Also, it comes with folate and potassium.

    There are also low amounts of other nutrients including copper, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and iron that are present in it.

    Moreover, it contains a monounsaturated fatty acid called Oleic acid, which is part of what makes olive oil good to use. This fatty acid is known to have many benefits, some of which are lowering inflammation, and brain development.[44]

    Adding it to your recipes or making smoothies, and regularly eating it together with your favorite fruits will help you take advantage of its nutritional value.

    9. Eggs

    There are 4 micronutrients in eggs that give the brain an extra edge, folate, choline, vitamin B6 and B12.

    Folate helps to slow down the mental decline that comes with age.[45]

    Choline is used by the body to increases the levels of a neurotransmitter known as Acetylcholine that is associated with memory, mental function and moods.[46][47][48]

    The yolk of an egg is where the choline micronutrient is in high quantities, and people who desire to increase their choline levels in the body are encouraged to focus on that part.

    Vitamin B6 brings down the high levels of an amino acid called Homocysteine in the blood that causes depression and other psychiatric issues.

    It also plays the role of increasing the levels of neurotransmitters like GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid), serotonin and dopamine, which modulate emotions.

    Vitamin B12 also helps with reducing the symptoms of depression as well as preventing losing neurons that in turn cause poor memory.[49]

    10. Citrus Fruits

    Citrus fruits are categorized into lemons (which include meyer lemons and eureka lemons), sweet oranges (which include blood orange, Valencia, cara cara and navel), limes (which include kaffir, Persian and key lime), mandarin (which include tangelo, tangor, satsuma and clementine), grapefruit (which include ruby red, white and oroblanco) and others such as yuzu, sudachi, citron and pomelos.

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    They have the B vitamins as well as Vitamin C, copper, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. There are also lots of varieties of carotenoids, essential oils and flavonoids present in citrus fruits.

    On top of that, they are also known to possess antioxidating and anti-inflammatory effects.

    Vitamin C reduces inflammation, offers protection to neurons from oxidative stress, modulates neurotransmission (communication between neurons), and also influences neuronal development.[50]

    Some of the minerals in citrus fruits have been found to reduce symptoms of depression in women.[51]

    They have also been associated with influencing communication through the nerves and regulating neurotransmitters.[52]

    The flavanoids protect the nervous system from damage through the anti-inflammatory effects they have. And this helps to keep mental health conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s away.[53][54]

    11. Turmeric

    Turmeric is a spice we add to our foods to make it delicious that also does a bit of magic to our brains.

    Curcumin is a primary active component in turmeric that easily passes the blood brain barrier.

    It brings about anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that drag along the benefits of improved memory, promoting growth of new brain cells and managing moods.[55][56]

    Also, it has shown potential to handle Alzheimer’s diseases, although it has not been fully confirmed as reliable treatment.[57][58]

    12. Beetroots

    Beetroots which are commonly referred to as beets are also great brain enhancers.

    They can help prevent mental decline that is associated with poor blood flow to the brain. They have nitrates that encourage blood vessel dilation that then allow more blood and oxygen to flow to the brain, and thus enhance its functions.[59]

    More specifically, they improve flow of blood to a part of the brain known as the frontal lobe.

    This is a region that is linked to higher cognitive functions including concentration and attention, problem solving, reasoning and judgment, motor function, impulse control, memory, social interaction and emotions.

    Conclusion

    There you go, the best brain foods that you should make your closest friends.

    You should aim to have them often if you would like to see an improvement in your brain function in the coming months. Looking for recipes that use the foods mentioned above as ingredients and adding them to your recipe book is a good place to start.

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    Also, mixing them up with the foods you like eating goes a long way in not only making sure that you are minding your brain health but also enjoying what you eat in the process.

    Featured photo credit: Maddi Bazzocco via unsplash.com

    Reference

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    [2] US National Library of Medicine: Neuroprotective and Anti-inflammatory Properties of a Coffee Component in the MPTP Model of Parkinson’s Disease
    [3] PubMed.gov: Effects of caffeine on mood and performance: a study of realistic consumption
    [4] PubMed.gov: Caffeine and adenosine
    [5] PubMed.gov: The role of adenosine in the regulation of sleep
    [6] PubMed.gov: Roles of adenosine and its receptors in sleep-wake regulation
    [7] US National Library of Medicine: The Safety of Ingested Caffeine: A Comprehensive Review
    [8] National Center For Complimentary And Integrative Health: Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth
    [9] PubMed.gov: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and their Role in Central Nervous System – A Review
    [10] National Library of Medicine: A meta-analytic review of double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressant efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids
    [11] PubMed.gov: Novel insights into the effect of vitamin B₁₂ and omega-3 fatty acids on brain function
    [12] PubMed.gov: Quantitative Erythrocyte Omega-3 EPA Plus DHA Levels are Related to Higher Regional Cerebral Blood Flow on Brain SPECT
    [13] PubMed.gov: Omega-3 fatty acids and dementia
    [14] PubMed.gov: Fish consumption and cognitive decline with age in a large community study
    [15] Harvard Medical School: Foods linked to better brainpower
    [16] US National Library of Medicine: Acceptability, Safety, and Efficacy of Oral Administration of Extracts of Black or Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Adult Human Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study
    [17] PubMed.gov: Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands
    [18] PubMed.gov: Effect of three different cultivars of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on learning and depression in ovariectomized mice
    [19] US National Library of Medicine: Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands
    [20] PubMed.gov: Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition
    [21] Wiley Online Library: Adenosine, Adenosine Receptors and the Actions of Caffeine
    [22] PubMed.gov: Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects
    [23] PubMed.gov: The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent
    [24] ScienceDirect: L-theanine—a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans
    [25] PubMed.gov: L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state
    [26] PubMed.gov: Green tea extract enhances parieto-frontal connectivity during working memory processing
    [27] PubMed.gov: Neurological mechanisms of green tea polyphenols in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases
    [28] PubMed.gov: Vitamin K status and cognitive function in healthy older adults
    [29] Increased dietary vitamin K intake is associated with less severe subjective memory complaint among older adults
    [30] US National Library of Medicine: Assessing Competence of Broccoli Consumption on Inflammatory and Antioxidant Pathways in Restraint-Induced Models: Estimation in Rat Hippocampus and Prefrontal Cortex
    [31] ScienceDaily: B vitamins and the aging brain examined
    [32] PubMed.gov: The Importance of Maternal Folate Status for Brain Development and Function of Offspring
    [33] PubMed.gov: Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12
    [34] PNAS: Preventing Alzheimer’s disease-related gray matter atrophy by B-vitamin treatment
    [35] US National Library of Medicine: Flavonoids and brain health: multiple effects underpinned by common mechanisms
    [36] Harvard Medical School: The thinking on flavonoids
    [37] PubMed.gov: Epicatechin, a component of dark chocolate, enhances memory formation if applied during the memory consolidation period
    [38] PubMed.gov: The sweet life: The effect of mindful chocolate consumption on mood
    [39] PubMed.gov: Effects of vitamin E on cognitive performance during ageing and in Alzheimer’s disease
    [40] PubMed.gov: The effect of adrenaline and of alpha- and beta-adrenergic blocking agents on ATP concentration and on incorporation of 32Pi into ATP in rat fat cells
    [41] PubMed.gov: Vitamin E-gene interactions in aging and inflammatory age-related diseases: implications for treatment. A systematic review
    [42] US National Library of Medicine: LONG-TERM INTAKE OF NUTS IN RELATION TO COGNITIVE FUNCTION IN OLDER WOMEN
    [43] PubMed.gov: Cognition: the new frontier for nuts and berries
    [44] US National Library of Medicine: Neuroprotective effects of oleic acid in rodent models of cerebral ischaemia
    [45] US National Library of Medicine: Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function
    [46] PubMed.gov: Choline: an essential nutrient for public health
    [47] Pubmed.govThe relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort
    [48] NCBI: Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline
    [49] PubMed.gov: Vitamin B-12 concentration, memory performance, and hippocampal structure in patients with mild cognitive impairment
    [50] PubMed.gov: Preventive and Therapeutic Potential of Vitamin C in Mental Disorders
    [51] NCBI: Association between Lower Intake of Minerals and Depressive Symptoms among Elderly Japanese Women but Not Men: Findings from Shika Study
    [52] Harvard Medical School: Precious metals and other important minerals for health
    [53] PubMed.gov: Role of Quercetin Benefits in Neurodegeneration
    [54] PubMed.gov: Neurodegenerative Diseases: Might Citrus Flavonoids Play a Protective Role?
    [55] PubMed.gov: Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial
    [56] PLOS ONE: Curcumin Enhances Neurogenesis and Cognition in Aged Rats: Implications for Transcriptional Interactions Related to Growth and Synaptic Plasticity
    [57] US National Library of Medicine: The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview
    [58] NCBI: The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview
    [59] NCBI: The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease

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