June 12, 2019
Most of us have seen the TV ads for Prevagen and have heard about the protective effects of ginkgo biloba—and those are just a couple of the dietary aids that Americans swallow in the hope and belief that they will make our brains stronger.
In fact, more than one-quarter (26%) of U.S. adults age 50 and older are taking at least one brain-health supplement, according to the findings of the 2019 AARP Brain Health and Dietary Supplements Survey
And research by the Nutrition Business Journal indicates that fully 69% of U.S. adults age 50 and older are taking a dietary supplement at least three times a week—with 8% saying they’re taking one to “reverse dementia.”
But now we are hearing that those supplements are “a massive waste of money”—and that warning comes from people who should know these things: On June 11, the Global Counsel on Brain Health (GCBH) in partnership with AARP released a report concluding that dietary supplements do not improve brain health or prevent cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.
Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, yet 49% of older adults believe otherwise, Prevention magazine reports.
“The GCBH reviewed the scientific evidence on various supplements and determined it could not endorse any ingredient, production, or formulation designed for brain health,” the AARP said in a press release.
Under FDA law, it’s illegal for dietary supplement companies to make any claim that their product can treat, prevent, or cure a disease. If a supplement marketer wants to say their product can reduce the risk of a disease, they must notify the FDA first and get authorization before such a claim can go on a product label, Prevention notes.
Yet, the companies continue to market using misleading claims—among those currently in print or on-air:
- Clinically shown to be safe and support memory and brain function
- Clinically proven natural ingredients
- Supports neurotransmitter development to promote a feeling of mental sharpness
- Helps your brain maintain healthy neurons to support learning and recall
- 13 scientifically proven nutrients for a healthier brain
- Keeps your mind sharp and memory strong
- Has shown statistically significant improvements in memory and recall in as little as four weeks when taken as directed
- Designed to help improve memory while increasing focus and concentration
- Comprehensive blend of vitamins, amino acids, and herbal extracts that support the brain’s structure and function to deliver amazing improvements in memory and concentration!
- Help lessen the frequency of episodes of forgetfulness and brain fog
- Improve your ability to retain and recall various kinds of information
- For cognitive health, memory improvement, memory enhancement
- These key nutrients have a powerful effect at reducing the inflammatory fires that destroy our brain tissue.
In addition, because dietary supplement companies aren’t regulated by the FDA, neither are their ingredients or dosages. The report warns that supplements “may have too much, too little, or, in some cases, none of the ingredients [consumers] think they’re buying.”
This can have dire consequences. The AARP cites a 2013 report from the U.S. government which found that the FDA received more than 6,000 reports of health problems due to dietary supplements between 2008 and 2011. They included 92 deaths and more than 1,000 series injuries. As part of the FDA’s investigation, the agency’s researchers found “dangerous fungi, pesticides, environmental pollutants, and heavy metals in some products.”
Worse yet, the FDA found that more than 700 dietary supplements contained prescription drugs, including steroids and antidepressants.
“It’s tempting to think you can pop a pill and prevent dementia, but the science says that doesn’t work,” Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP SVP for Policy and Executive Director of the GCBH told Prevention. “We know what will keep your brain healthy: exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, challenging your thinking skills, and connecting with others.”
Research contact: @AARP