Do Brain Supplements Work?

August 20, 2019

Are Brain Health Supplements Really Effective?

It seems like everywhere you look, you’ll find advertisements about brain supplements. Often, they claim that they’ll help boost your brain health and improve memory and functioning. In 2016 alone, sales of brain health supplements totaled $3 billion, with that number estimated to grow to about $5.8 billion by 2023. Before you rush out to buy the latest pill, do you know if the supplements work as intended? Check out what the research tells us.

What are Brain Supplements?

A supplement is anything that helps to enhance or complete something else when added to it. Therefore, a brain health supplement is something to enhance the quality of brain health and functioning. Many vitamins in the B family (especially B12), C, E and K have been shown to boost brain health, as each vitamin can help keep brain compounds in check, provide powerful antioxidants, and strengthen brain cell membranes.

The brain requires a balance of different vitamins to stay healthy. Vitamin deficiencies can lower the health of the brain, which can lead to problems such as memory loss and cognition problems. Because of this, many turn to supplements in the hopes that these products will give us back the vitamins that are sorely needed.

Do Brain Supplements Work?

The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) is an independent collaborative that works in areas of brain health related to human cognition. In early 2019, they released a report about their findings on brain health supplements, specifically those marketed to people aged 50 or older. Here’s what they found:

  • In general, there is not enough evidence to support the use of brain health supplements. The research is either not there or is biased towards making sales.
  • While vitamin deficiency is a concern for many older adults, there is not enough evidence to support taking supplements to correct this deficiency.
  • Many claims made in ads for brain health supplements are overly exaggerated. In fact, the ingredients and side effects of the supplements can vary greatly, and some ingredients can cause even more harm to consumers.
  • The GCBH recommends instead to maintain a healthy diet to get the vitamins you need.

In the United States, supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as strictly as prescription drugs. As a result, when a supplement claims to cure something or fight a disease, the FDA takes notice. In February of 2019, the FDA released a statement about 17 companies illegally selling supplements that claim to fight Alzheimer’s disease, warning that the supplements “may be ineffective, unsafe and could prevent a person from seeking an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.”

How to Improve Your Brain Health

By carefully looking at research, there is simply not enough evidence to support taking supplements for brain health. Instead, follow these guidelines to ensure a strong and healthy brain:

  • Do the research. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re considering a brain supplement, see if the product has been verified by multiple sources. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the supplement before you take it.
  • Don’t overdo it. Vitamins are good, but too much of a good thing can be harmful. If you need to add vitamins to your diet, make sure you’re consuming the recommended dosage.
  • Eat a healthy diet. It is recommended to eat more foods that’ll give you the vitamins you need, instead of spending money on supplements that might not work. For more information on which foods can help improve your brain health, check out our article, “5 Essential Nutrients for Brain Health and Memory.
  • Read the labels. If your healthcare provider prescribes supplements, make sure to check all label information. It should tell you what the supplements are, how much to take, and the expiration date. The expiration date is important, as supplements lose potency over time.

Enjoy Healthier Lifestyle Choices with Episcopal SeniorLife Communities

Sometimes it’s challenging to make healthy choices, especially with the overload of information available on TV and on the internet. That’s one reason why Episcopal SeniorLife Communities has been offering Neighborhood Programs for seniors since 2012. In these programs, you’ll find nutrition information, strength training guidance, educational presentations, and so much more to help keep you active, inspired, and healthy. The best part is that you don’t have to be an ESLC resident to participate. Each program is open to all seniors who live near our communities. For more information about Neighborhood Programs, or to learn more about our senior living options at Episcopal SeniorLife Communities, please contact us today.

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