Supplements for brain health don’t work, according to neurologist


AMERICANS and others around the world have turned increasingly to dietary supplements in order to maintain or preserve their brain health.A recent study found that a quarter of adults over 50 take a supplement for brain-related health. But that same study, done by experts convened by the AARP, suggests that seniors should spend their money elsewhere.
The supplements don’t work. This is no small issue. Expenditures on non-vitamin brain health supplements such as such as minerals, herbal mixtures, nurtraceuticals or amino acids, have ex-tended into the billions of dollars. This can amount to between US$20 and US$60 a month for seniors, a sizable sum that could be put to-ward other expenses, including fresh vegetables and fruit that actually do make a difference.
As a neurologist who studies brain health and prevention of dementia, and who has been involved in research in memory and Alzheimer’s disease for my entire career, I can help explain what we do and don’t know about supplements, nutrition and brain health.
So, what is the problem? Aren’t all of these “medications” approved by the Food and Drug Administration?
The FDA does not treat supplements like prescription medications. Supplements are not tested for ac-curacy of their stated ingredients by independent laboratories, and they overwhelmingly do not have the legitimate scientific evidence that would demonstrate that they are effective. The FDA relies on the manufacturers to test for the sup-plements’ safety, not for their efficacy. They are not subject to rigor-ous clinical trials that apply to prescription drugs.
The FDA prohibits supplement makers from making specific health claims, but companies have found a way to tout wondrous benefits nonetheless.
They use phrases such as “re-search proven,” or “laboratory tested,” and other similar scientific-sounding claims. Some of these claim that the product “maintains good brain health.”
For example, a label on a bottle of Ginkgo biloba, an especially popular supplement that many seniors take for brain health, claims: “Sup-ports healthy brain function and mental alertness.”
But there’s an asterisk. Turn the bottle around, and you can read the caveat that follows the asterisk: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

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