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Supplements for Brain Health Are a Waste of Money, Experts Say

06-07-2019 04:31 am

More than a quarter of adults over age 50 take supplements for brain health, but a new report suggests these dietary aids may be ineffective and unnecessary.

The from the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) summarizes the opinions of experts who gathered to discuss whether supplements can influence a person’s cognitive function as they age.

The group concluded supplements claiming to boost memory or cognition may be ineffective.

“The problem is that people are often wasting their money on products that may only be offering a temporary placebo effect,” Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA geriatric psychiatry division and one of the experts consulted for the report, told Healthline.

“People often assume that if a product is natural then it is safe. However, dietary supplements may have side effects and may interact with other drugs in a way that decreases or increases the effects of those other medications,” he said.

The report states that sales of supplements claiming to boost memory have nearly doubled from 2006 to 2015. In 2016, sales of brain health supplements totaled $3 billion. That’s projected to increase to $5.8 billion by 2023.

“Given the vast interest people have in maintaining and improving their brain health as they age, the GCBH has no doubt that the use of brain-health supplements targeted at an increasingly aging population worldwide is growing and large numbers of people are already taking them,” the report authors wrote.

Jacob Hall, MD, an assistant clinical professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University in California, says the findings of the report are in line with what he sees in his own clinical practice.

“A large number of my patients have taken supplements with the hope of a cognitive benefit. Even more ask about the advertisements they encounter,” he told Healthline.

“There’s a lot of fear and desperation surrounding memory loss and the lack of effective medications to prevent or slow it down. Supplement companies are aware of this chasm and are increasingly rushing to fill it.

“Although more research is always needed, no supplements have been proven to be effective in treating or preventing cognitive decline. Except in specific medical conditions, they’re a waste of money and, in some cases, potentially dangerous,” Hall added.

Officials at Quincy Bioscience and Reckitt Benckiser, two manufacturers of supplements, didn’t respond to Healthline’s requests for interviews for this story.

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