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Modern-Day Snake Oil: The Problem With Brain Supplements

You’ve in all probability seen the inescapable commercials and slick on-line adverts for mind dietary supplements that declare to protect against dementia, improve memory and boost just about every other neurocognitive function.

Those similar advert campaigns make neurologist Amy E. Sanders, MD, MS, FAAN, very, very upset.

“It’s reprehensible. They’re snake oil salesmen,” says Dr. Sanders. “They’re preying on the fears of vulnerable older adults, whose great terror in life is they’ll develop memory decline, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.”

As director of the Hartford HealthCare Memory Care Center, Dr. Sanders sees these involved sufferers each day. Many come to their appointments holding a bottle of a mind complement like Prevagen, or asking concerning the miracle remedy promised by Neuriva.

She sees their hopefulness, however has to inform them that, sadly, there isn’t a scientific proof for the product they’re holding. She asks them to cease taking it, as a result of dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which implies they haven’t been by way of the identical type of security testing you’d anticipate with, say, a vaccine or prescription medication. She typically refers them to studies about high quality management points, and articles concerning the time one firm or one other ran afoul of the legislation for false promoting. And lastly, she helps her sufferers perceive the components in a few of these dietary supplements, and the dearth of any proof round their efficacy. For Neuriva, the components are phosphatidylserine, which hasn’t been confirmed to assist with reminiscence… and low cherry extract, which is principally espresso.

“Why pay a dollar a day for a pill with coffee extract and other stuff that doesn’t work?” she’ll ask them. “Just have a cup of coffee.”

But what concerning the reassuring taglines? What concerning the celeb scientists?

“If you watch the commercials carefully, you will see that the only kind of support is often that somebody said this supplement worked for them. Testimonials are the weakest possible kind of scientific evidence,” says Dr. Sanders.

Take Neuriva Plus. After a lawsuit in 2021, the corporate agreed to take away the phrase “clinically proven” from its advertising as a result of, in reality, it isn’t clinically confirmed – not less than not by important, placebo-controlled research. Now, the tagline on the web site is watered down, however nonetheless deceptive: “backed by science.” It is backed by some scientists, like Jeopardy host and former Big Bang Theory actor Mayim Bialik, who has a PhD in neuroscience. But Bialik’s neuroscience analysis had nothing to do with reminiscence or neurodegeneration: For her dissertation, she studied Prader-Willi syndrome, a uncommon genetic dysfunction that causes weight problems, mental incapacity and shortness in peak.

In different phrases, when you look just a little extra carefully, mind dietary supplements flip into quite a lot of wishful considering – geared toward a inhabitants that’s feeling very susceptible. “People get duped into buying expensive supplements because they want to do something that makes them feel, on a daily basis, as if they’re doing something to protect their memory,” says Dr. Sanders.

The excellent news is that, in the event you’re nervous about your reminiscence, there are different vital, clinically confirmed steps you possibly can take. As one instance, Dr. Sanders repeatedly checks sufferers’ thyroid ranges and B12 ranges.

“A low thyroid function can exacerbate any cognitive impairment, and maybe cause it all by itself,” she explains. “A B12 deficiency can cause all kinds of mischief, including cognitive impairment.”

So earlier than you topic your physique, and your pockets, to doubtful mind dietary supplements, talk to your primary care physician or one other medical skilled about any considerations round your cognitive well being. At the Memory Care Center, these conversations occur each day. Sometimes, sufferers are available in with legitimate considerations, after which they’re in the appropriate place to get the assistance they want. Other instances, after an in depth historical past and testing, they depart the middle reassured that their cognitive efficiency is definitely tremendous – they were just suffering from stress.

Either approach, medical professionals can information them to a wholesome path. And it doesn’t embody any costly, unregulated mind dietary supplements.

“There is no such thing as a magic pill,” says Dr. Sanders.

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