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The Great Great Brain Health Supplement SCAM

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Thursday, January 9, 2020

Brain and memory supplements earned their marketers $643 million in the United States in 2015 (most recent year numbers available) and $3 billion in sales globally in 2016. By 2023 forecasts are that almost $6 billion will be spent worldwide. In an exhaustive 2019 survey by the AARP Brain Health and Dietary Supplements Survey, more than 25% of Americans over 50 regularly take supplements for brain health. The brainy, intelligent question that must be asked is, is there evidence that these specific supplements are actually improving brain health?

A meticulous and comprehensive report was compiled by The Global Council on Brain Health to attempt to answer the question. Before we examine their conclusions, who is this Council?

“The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) is an independent collaborative of scientists, health professionals, scholars, and policy experts from around the world who are working in areas of brain health related to human cognition. The GCBH focuses on brain health relating to people’s ability to think and reason as they age, including aspects of memory, perception and judgment. The GCBH is convened by AARP with support from Age UK to offer the best possible advice about what older adults can do to maintain and improve their brain health. GCBH members gather to discuss specific lifestyle issue areas that may impact people’s brain health as they age, with the goal of providing evidence based recommendations for people to consider incorporating into their lives.”

A summary of the Council’s conclusions:

“There is no convincing evidence to recommend dietary supplements for brain health in healthy older adults. The consensus statements and recommendations above are based on the current state of science as of May 2019. Supplements have not been demonstrated to delay the onset of dementia, nor can they prevent, treat or reverse Alzheimer's disease or other neurological diseases that cause dementia. For most people, the best way to get your nutrients for brain health is from a healthy diet. Unless your health care provider has identified that you have a specific nutrient deficiency, there is not sufficient data to justify taking any dietary supplement for brain health. 

"The GCBH does not endorse any ingredient, product or supplement formulation specifically sold for brain health. Because no government agency determines dietary supplements are safe or effective before they are sold, consumers should approach supplements claiming to improve or boost brain function with skepticism. Because dietary supplements can be sold without a government agency first determining that they are safe or and effective before they are sold, consumers should also be aware that in addition to being a waste of money, some supplements could physically harm them.

“Despite claims to the contrary, brain health supplements have not been established to maintain thinking skills or improve brain function. However, there are many other lifestyle habits such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, staying mentally active and being socially engaged that are recommended by the council. For evidenced-based strategies on what you can do to help maintain your brain health as you age, see the council's other reports.”

The claims brain supplement marketers make are not supported by evidence:

“Simply because there is research showing effect of a substance in the lab, at the cellular level, or in animal trials, this does not mean it will translate into human benefit. Sometimes supplement manufacturers rely on preliminary or early scientific enquiry, or general scientific principles or evidence of other potential health benefits, to support their claims making or implying a brain health benefit. To truly understand how supplement use affects long-term brain health, we need more large, long-term high-quality randomized controlled trials in humans during which one group receives a placebo—a substance that has no effective compound—and another group gets the supplement. These trials should also be double-blind, so that neither the researchers nor those in the study know whether they are receiving the supplement or the placebo. The studies’ outcomes should not be influenced by the supplement manufacturers. Unfortunately, there are very few high quality human studies completed on the vast array of dietary supplements compared with the number of products that are being sold or taken for brain health.”

Just a representative sampling of the misleading claims by devious marketers in ads online and in other media:

----A dietary supplement that has been clinically shown to help with mild memory problems associated with aging.
----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 with an ingredient that’s clinically shown to improve memory and recall in healthy adults.
----Has shown statistically significant improvements in memory and recall in as little as 4 weeks when taken as directed.
----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!
----Give your brain the compounds it needs to help keep your mind bright, clever and strong.
----Helps lessen the frequency of episodes of forgetfulness and brain fog.

How do you know if the ingredients in the brain supplement you are taking actually travels to your brain?

“When researchers study prescription drugs that have an effect on the brain, a key experiment that they perform is measuring how much of the drug taken (orally or through other routes) gets into the brain. Not all substances taken by mouth survive the strong stomach acid, and not all substances that persist beyond the stomach get absorbed into the blood. Even after absorption into the blood, the liver can further break down the substance, and the blood-brain barrier—the natural gatekeeper of the brain—may keep out what is left. Usually it is not known how much—if any—of the supplement people take gets into the brain. When a nutrient is absorbed into the blood but not into the brain, people can still experience undesirable side effects (e.g., nausea, dizziness). Therefore, even when people feel a difference (good or bad) after taking a supplement, there is no guarantee that it is reaching the brain. So a key step in using science to support any supplement’s benefit on brain health would be to study how much of each nutrient gets to the brain.”

With the exception of major scams like Prevagen, sorry, the FDA has no interest in brain or dietary supplements:

“People often think that supplements are subject to the same government regulations as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. AARP’s 2019 survey reveals that almost half of older adults (49 percent) in the United States mistakenly believe the FDA determines that dietary supplements, including vitamins, are both safe and effective before they are sold, while 36 percent believe that herbs and enzymes receive the same scrutiny. In fact, the FDA’s mandatory premarket evaluation of the safety, effectiveness, and health and medical claims of drugs does not apply to dietary supplements. It is against the law for supplement manufacturers to make claims that they treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) require that such claims be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence before they are made. However, the substantiation requirement is not generally reviewed by the regulatory agencies. These agencies can only take enforcement action against unsubstantiated or false claims once the product is already on the market. This situation may lead many people to have a false sense of security when it comes to taking dietary supplements they find on store shelves or online.”

Further Reading

Prevagen goes P-hacking                                   https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/prevagen-goes-p-hacking/

Don't Fall for the 'Memory' Pills Targeting Baby Boomers   https://www.wired.com/story/dont-fall-for-the-memory-pills-targeting-baby-boomers/

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Photo:  https://streetartrat.com/2015/05/27/creative-brain/

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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