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There's No Magic Pill for Brain Health Skip to content

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Don’t Waste Money on Brain Supplements

There’s no magic pill that keeps your mind healthy

Woman emptying a pill bottle into her hand

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En español | Keeping our brains healthy tops the list of concerns as we age, and it is tempting to think there is a magic potion to achieve that goal. Tempting, but no such potion exists.

The latest report from the Global Council on Brain Health, created by AARP in collaboration with Age UK, finds that “there is no convincing evidence to recommend daily dietary supplements for brain health in healthy older adults” and that the supplements are “likely a waste of your money.”

This is no small matter. Memory-supplement sales reached $643 million in 2015, nearly doubling in value in a decade, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Our research shows that about half of older adults incorrectly believe that the Food and Drug Administration allows on the market only dietary supplements that have been determined to be safe and effective. Sadly, that is not true.

The council suggests that instead of turning to supplements, we should choose foods shown to support a healthy brain.  

Other council research reports that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables and berries, is associated with better brain health.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes hurt both heart and cognitive health, so the council concludes that “a heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet.”

Fortunately, there are several other evidence-based steps we can take for brain health, including:

  • Be social. It is good for our brains for us to interact with others, feel connected to them and take part in purposeful activities.
  • Stay active. Physically active people have a lower risk of cognitive decline. It is preferable to engage in more than one physical activity.
  • Get enough sleep. Sleeping seven to eight hours each night is related to better brain and physical health in older adults.
  • Be stimulated. Activities such as volunteering, continuing your education, learning a new skill and doing mentally challenging leisure pursuits all help the brain.

There is no magic potion, but there are many paths to maintaining brain health, and we may pay a steep price if we buy into dubious claims and bypass the evidence about what works. To keep our brains healthy, follow the science: For practical tips on what to do for your brain, go to globalcouncilonbrainhealth.org. And you will find evidence-based articles, brain-healthy recipes and more at stayingsharp.aarp.org.

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