According to the Nutrition Business Journal, in 2015 Americans spent some $91 million on ginkgo biloba—just one of the many supplements marketed to boost memory. But do these memory supplements work?

We spoke to experts and examined the research to to find out about the cognitive effects of three common memory supplements—and simple lifestyle strategies that have been shown to improve your brain function

Vitamin B12 Supplements

For people with cognitive impairment because of vitamin B12 deficiency—common among older adults and vegetarians—eating B12-rich foods or taking the memory supplements can improve memory, says Orly Avitzur, M.D., a neurologist and Consumer Reports’ medical director. “But if your B12 levels are normal, getting extra won’t give you a mental boost.”  

Ginkgo Biloba Supplements

Research shows that it doesn’t improve or preserve memory. For example, in one landmark trial, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008, researchers followed more than 3,000 people age 75 or older for some six years. Half were given 120 mg doses of the herb twice a day, while the others took a placebo. The conclusion: Ginkgo didn’t decrease the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.  

Fish Oil Supplements

Several observational studies have shown a link between higher blood levels of the oil’s omega-3 fatty acids and a decreased risk of dementia. For example, one recent study of 185 seniors aged 80 and older published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that people who scored better on a 10 minute cognition quiz had higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids. But a 2012 Cochrane Library review of data from three clinical trials with data from 3,536 people over age 60 who took fish-oil supplements for six to 40 months found that the memory supplements did not improve cognitive function.  

What to Do Instead

Get active; exercise may protect against cognitive decline. Set a weekly goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise. And consider following the brain-boosting MIND diet (short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). It includes lots of veggies, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, some beans, fish, and poultry, plus a daily glass of wine. It limits red meat, sweets, and fried foods.  

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the September issue of Consumer Reports magazine.