Brain health supplements are a multi-billion dollar global industry fueled by millions of older adults hoping to improve or maintain their cognitive functioning as they age.
But a report released Tuesday concludes that such dietary supplements are ineffective—and do not live up to their claims to improve brain health, or prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia.
The report, by the AARP-convened Global Council on Brain Health, reviewed the findings of epidemiological studies and randomized control trials and found there is not enough scientific evidence to prove that dietary supplements can prevent or revert any health issues, specifically memory and brain health.
“It’s tempting to think you can pop a pill and prevent dementia—but the science says that doesn’t work,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP senior vice president for policy and executive director of the global council in a statement.
The global council was created by AARP, in collaboration with Age UK, to provide advice for consumers who want to maintain and improve their brain health. The review panel for this study included 14 international experts from the fields of nutrition, epidemiology, genetics, geriatric psychiatry, gerontology, internal medicine, neurology, neuroscience, public health, and dietary supplement testing and regulation. .
Many dietary supplements specifically target customers with claims such as “Clinically shown to be safe and support memory and brain function.” An AARP survey also found that more than 80 percent of adults believe that dietary supplements are beneficial and 26 percent take supplements that are marketed for brain health.
While the benefits may be unknown, there are known potential risks. All dietary supplements, such as multivitamins and B12 supplements, are not regulated under the same FDA standards as prescription over-the-counter drugs. There are also differing regulations and recommendations for the use of dietary supplements, which could cause more harm than good. For example, a popular supplement—folate—is known to potentially speed up the development of cancers if taken in excess.
The report underscores that the best practice is to adopt a healthy and well-balanced diet that already contains all the vitamins and minerals someone needs. People who are concerned about vitamin deficiencies should consult a doctor before taking any supplements.
”The good news is we know what will keep your brain healthy: exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, challenging your thinking skills, and connecting with others,” Lock said.
Rebecca Howell is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park studying medical history. She is a regular contributor to MemoryWell News for the Ages.