Data Lacking for Memory Supplements

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article from Consumer Reports in the Health and Science Section in the 3 Apr 2018 issue of the Washington Post. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales of supplements touted as memory boosters nearly doubled between 2006 and 2015. Unfortunately, according to a review of studies published in December, there’s virtually no good evidence that such products can prevent or delay memory lapses, mild cognitive impairment or dementia in older adults. Moreover, Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says, “some may do more harm than good.”

Fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids); B vitamins such as folate B6 and B12; and ginkgo biloba extract, made from the dried leaves of a ginkgo tree, none of which have demonstrated their benefits. For example, one study published in Lancet Neurology in 2012 found that among 2,854 older adults with memory complaints, those who took ginkgo biloba extract twice a day for five years had no fewer cases of Alzheimer’s than those who took a placebo.

Regarding fish oil, some studies have found that people with diets high in omega-3s—which are found in fatty fish such as salmon—may have a lower risk of dementia. But similar benefits have not been found with supplements. A 2012 review of data on thousands of older adults found that those who took omega—3 fatty acid supplements had no fewer dementia diagnoses or better scores on tests of short-term memory than those who took a placebo.

Nor have B vitamins fared any better. A 2015 review of studies found that supplementation with B6, B12 and/or folic acid failed to slow or reduce the risk of cognitive decline in healthy older adults and did not improve brain function in those with cognitive decline or dementia.

The article states, “Our experts also recommend avoiding branded “memory boosting” blends.”

The article notes that a 2017 Government Accountability Office report analyzed hundreds of ads promoting memory-enhancing supplements and identified 27 making what seemed to be illegal claims about treating or preventing disease such as dementia.

Lon Schneider, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California says, “even legal claims that suggest supplements will improve, boost or enhance your memory don’t have to have any data to justify them.” A statement from the Council on Responsible Nutrition, an industry group responded to the GAO report reads, “Dietary supplements cannot cure, treat or prevent Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any disease.”

Supplements are loosely regulated and some may contain undisclosed ingredients or prescription drugs. Some dangerously interact with medication: For example, ginkgo biloba should never be paired with blood thinners, blood pressure meds, or SSRI antidepressants.

Marvin M. Lipman, Consumer Reports medical adviser says, “Don’t be misled by hype. They are not only a waste of money, but some can also be harmful.”

The article offers three strategies to try instead (which should be familiar to healthy memory blog readers).
“*Do a brain workout. Enhancing reasoning and memory abilities—learning a new language, for instance—might help delay or slow decline. A 10-year trial found that such training (though not computerized “brain games’) can help increase cognitive processing speed an sharpen reasoning skills.

*Exercise your body. In 2011, one study estimated that a million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States were caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Several studies have found that physical activities—walking, weightlifting, yoga, or tai chi, for example—may delay or slow cognitive decline but not prevent it.

*Manage blood pressure. Lowering blood pressure dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are risk factors for memory loss.”

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