Afraid of losing your mind? Don’t look to a bottle to help you hold on to it. Despite a plethora of pills claiming to defer dementia (Ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, huperzine A, and coral calcium among them), the Alzheimer’s Association, the Food and Drug Administration, and other researchers in the field concur that these supplements simply don’t work.
According to Joanna Hellmuth, MD, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, Memory and Aging Center, in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “No known dietary supplement prevents cognitive decline or dementia.”
While Boomers joke about “senior moments,” our fears of forgetfulness are driving the bogus brain health biz—to the tune of a $3.2 billion a year. This is possible because the industry isn’t required to test products for efficacy or even safety. “It’s a confusing landscape,” Dr. Hellmuth said recently in the New York Times. “Lots of patients and families see bold claims in newspaper ads, on the internet and on late-night TV that various supplements can improve memory.”
What Just Might Work
Most of the hype is carefully worded, never claiming to cure, treat, or prevent disease, which lets it squeak by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. When manufacturers out-and-out lie about their snake oil, the FDA goes into action—but it’s hard to keep up. The agency recently issued stern warnings to a number of companies illegally touting some 60 supplements.
Our fears of forgetfulness are driving the bogus brain health biz—to the tune of a $3.2 billion a year.
The medical establishment and the government would be happy to find a panacea for cognitive problems, but it’s just not materializing. Case in point: Federally funded research into Ginkgo biloba extract at the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute followed 3,000 people who partook of the stuff for seven years and found it had no effects on reducing the incidence of dementia.
Fortunately, there do seem to be steps you can take to help offset debilitating cognitive issues. Increasing physical activity, managing blood pressure, and doing mental exercises to maintain cognitive abilities were endorsed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2017 as having “encouraging but inconclusive evidence” to prevent, delay, or slow cognitive decline.