For Brain Health, Skip the Supplements and Focus on A Healthy Diet

Americans and others around the world have turned increasingly to dietary supplements 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 AARP, suggests that seniors should spend their money elsewhere. The supplements don’t work.

The FDA does not treat supplements like prescription medications. Supplements are not tested for accuracy of their stated ingredients by independent laboratories, and they overwhelmingly do not have the legitimate scientific evidence that would demonstrate they are effective. The FDA relies on the manufacturers to test for the supplements’ safety, not for their efficacy. They are not subject to rigorous 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 supposed benefits nonetheless. They often use phrases such as “research proven,” or “laboratory tested.” Some of these claims that the product “maintains good brain health.”

Look for the asterisk

For example, a label on one bottle of Ginkgo biloba, an especially popular supplement that many take for brain health, claims: “Supports 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. This product is not intended to diagnose, prevent or cure any disease.”

Worried about brain health

As baby boomers age, they are trying to find ways to maintain good health, especially brain health. A 2012 Marist Poll for Home Instead Senior Care revealed that Americans fear Alzheimer’s more than any other disease. Surveys have also shown that older people worry most about the loss of cognition, either normal memory loss or worse, dementia.

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