You see ads all the time for supplements that are supposed to boost memory or cognition; ads that are clearly aimed at older people who either already suffer from memory loss or have the terrible fear that they eventually will be so afflicted.
Visions of sitting numbly in the corner of a nursing home sitting room, understanding nothing, recognizing no-one, drooling onto your bib, can play through your mind. And you think, "Oh, what can it hurt. Maybe it will help."
And so, you go to the drug store and you pickup a bottle a cost of from $20 to $60 for 30 capsules -- $60 is the cost of the 20 mg. Prevagen, which boasts this claim on its website: "Prevagen Improves Memory". And, if you look further, it even cites scientific studies that appear to support that claim.
But a new report just released by the AARP-founded Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), a working group of top neurologists, nutritionists and researchers, says such supplements are worthless, and therefore, such claims are false.
So our senior citizens are simply being lied to because of flat-out greed.
"Supplements for brain health appear to be a huge waste of money for the 25 percent of adults over 50 who take them," said AARP Senior Vice President for Policy Sarah Lenz Lock, the GCBH executive director.
One AARP analysis of spending on just six different supplements marketed for brain health shows that adults age 50 and older spend more than $93 million a month on these six products alone.
“These people taking these pills are spending between $20 and $60 a month and flushing dollars down the toilet that could be better spent on things that actually improve their brain health,” Lock said.
The GCBH report calls out supplement makers, whose products are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) for effectiveness before they can be sold.
"The market is so large they get by without rigorous documentation of the efficiency of their products," said neurologist Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Rochester, MN, a member of the GCBH Governance Committee.
The report analyzes existing studies on supplements that purport to boost cognition — from fish oil to apoaequorin (jellyfish), with the authors finding insufficient evidence to recommend any type of supplement for brain health for most adults. They do, however, note that small studies have shown that DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) supplements may benefit those who already have mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor of Alzheimer's.
Overall, the authors stress, vitamins or nutrients that might be helpful in preserving brain health should be consumed as food. They point out that some studies have shown that consuming seafood can reduce the risk of declining memory and thinking skills — as well as Alzheimer's — a benefit not obtained from taking omega-3 as a supplement.
To me, the idea of playing on the fears of the elderly so you can make a lot of money is about as low as a business could go. These are vulnerable people who deserve our care and respect, and they should not be used as unwitting pawns simply for some supplement manufacturer to get rich.
If the FDA doesn't have authority to crack down on these people, then Congress should pass a law giving them that power. Because this isn't right.