When it comes to growing older, most people list memory loss as a top fear. Especially if we have loved ones who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder, we might think it’s a good idea to take a pill or capsule to keep our minds sharp as we age.
Unfortunately, study after study shows that products touted as promoting “brain health” are at best useless, at worst harmful—and that they siphon off money we might spend on legitimate health care.
University of Michigan researchers report that almost 40% of people take supplements that they think will lower their risk of dementia. University of California, San Francisco experts project that within a couple of years, consumers will be spending almost $12 billion on these products.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about products that promise to prevent, treat, and even cure Alzheimer’s disease. “These purported miracle cures are sold primarily on the internet,” they say. “They are often, though not always, falsely labeled as dietary supplements. Regardless of their form, these products fly in the face of true science. What these companies are selling is the false hope that there is an effective treatment or cure.”
The internet isn’t the only place we see offers for these products. Ads on social media or TV often feature celebrity hucksters, phony “before and after” testimonials, doctors played by actors, dubious experts, or claims about “medical studies” that are of poor quality and not published in reputable journals. Our friends might even try to sell us oils or herbs.
The FDA urges consumers to watch out for claims such as “Reverse mental decline associated with dementia or even Alzheimer’s in just a week.” “Clinically shown to help disease of the brain such as Alzheimer’s and even dementia.” “Can … reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by half.” “May have a role in preventing the progression of Alzheimer’s.”
These unscrupulous marketers also make claims like “Your doctor doesn’t want you to know…” In fact, says University of California, San Francisco neurologist Dr. Joanna Hellmuth, “If any treatment was found to be effective for dementia, it would already be widely used.”
So before you consider purchasing these products, consider that:
- You are wasting money on a useless product—who likes to be ripped off?
- The products are largely unregulated and may not contain what they claim to; capsules of an “herbal product” might contain lawn clippings, while others might contain dangerous ingredients not listed on the label.
- A drug might cause a dangerous interaction with your legitimate medications, or prevent them from working properly.
- You might delay seeking legitimate health care and support.
- Taking these products might distract you from proven ways to promote brain health.
The last item is extra-important! While there is no evidence that any supplements can lower the risk of dementia or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and other memory loss, there is plenty of evidence supporting beneficial lifestyle choices. Your doctor will most likely advise you to:
- Control health conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Eat healthy food (variations of the popular Mediterranean diet have shown especially good results).
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage stress and treat depression.
- Get enough sleep.
- Quit smoking.
- Get plenty of brain stimulation and socialization.
Bottom line: Talk to your doctor before purchasing any supplements, and talk about a brain health and care plan that’s right for you.
Welbrook Santa Monica provides a supportive environment and appropriate activities to promote the highest quality of life and wellbeing for each of our residents.