An in-depth report released today by the AARP-founded Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) — a working group of top neurologists, nutritionists and researchers — finds that supplements to preserve or boost memory or cognition aren't worth the plastic they're bottled in.
"Supplements for brain health appear to be a huge waste of money for the 25 percent of adults over 50 who take them,” says AARP Senior Vice President for Policy Sarah Lenz Lock, the GCBH executive director.
Indeed, one AARP analysis of spending on just six different supplements marketed for brain health shows that 50-plus adults spend more than $93 million a month on these proprietary blends 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 says.
Along with providing advice consumers and health practitioners can act on, the report calls out supplement makers, whose products — unlike prescription drugs — are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for effectiveness before they are permitted to be sold. “The market is so large they get by without rigorous documentation of the efficacy of their products,” says neurologist Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in Rochester, Minn., and a member of the GCBH Governance Committee.
As Petersen notes, given the lack of government regulation before their products hit the market, supplement or “nutraceutical” makers have little incentive to provide scientific studies to back up any claims they may make. “They can only lose market share by doing so,” he says.