Know Your Supplements

The GCBH Releases Recommendations on Vitamins, Minerals, and Other Dietary Supplements

The GCBH Releases Recommendations on Vitamins, Minerals, and Other Dietary Supplements

Many people are interested in how they can maintain their brain health, maximize their cognitive abilities, and/or stave off brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. At Cognitive Vitality, we recently discussed the problems associated with "pseudo medicine" where many dietary supplements are marketed to benefit brain health or prevent dementia based on unsubstantiated claims. The 2019 AARP Brain Health and Dietary Supplements Survey (PDF) reported that more than a quarter of Americans over the age of 50 are regularly taking supplements for their brain health. This month, the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) published a report on brain health supplements (PDF) and concluded that for most people, the best way to get nutrients important for brain health is from eating a healthy diet.

The GCBH was convened by the AARP and its members are healthcare professionals (including the ADDF's Founding Executive Director and Chief Science Officer, Howard Fillit, MD), scientists, and policy experts, with diverse expertise spanning nutrition, epidemiology, genetics, geriatric psychiatry, gerontology, internal medicine, neurology, neuroscience, public health, and dietary supplement testing and regulation. This report focused on the vitamins, minerals, and other supplements that were commonly marketed for brain health, including B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin E, apoaequorin, caffeine, coenzyme Q10, curcumin, cocoa, Ginkgo biloba, huperzine A, medium-chain triglycerides (coconut oil), melatonin, nicotinamide riboside, omega-3 fatty acids, and phosphatidylserine. Experts examined the evidence on whether dietary supplements can impact people's cognitive functions and summarized their consensus along with their recommendations and tips.


See the full report.

  • For most people, the best way to get nutrients for brain health is from a healthy diet. Choose foods and diets known to support a healthy brain.
  • The GCBH does not endorse any ingredient, product, or supplement specifically for brain health, unless your healthcare provider has identified that you are deficient in a specific nutrient. You should not begin taking any supplements without first consulting with your healthcare provider. Ask about the risks, benefits, and drug interactions. The next time you see your healthcare provider, take all supplements you currently take to your appointment so you can discuss them.
  • Vitamins and minerals are essential for health in small doses, but they may be harmful if taken in excess—more is not better (or safe), and multivitamins are not a substitute for a healthy diet.
  • For the few supplements that have been researched for their effect on brain health, studies have found no benefit in people with normal nutrient levels. The research is inconclusive on whether people with nutritional deficiencies can benefit by taking a supplement.
  • Age-related health conditions or the use of multiple medications can alter your body's ability to absorb nutrients including vitamins.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency and folate (vitamin B9) deficiency may negatively affect your brain health; healthcare providers may recommend supplementation in people with lower-than-recommended levels of these vitamins.
  • Eating fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc.) may benefit cognitive function, but there is insufficient evidence to recommend taking a fish oil-derived omega-3 supplement for brain health.
  • For people with vitamin D deficiency, healthcare providers may recommend vitamin D supplementation to correct the low levels for general health; however, there is insufficient evidence that vitamin D supplementation benefits brain health.
  • In order to understand whether a supplement's benefits are supported by high-quality research, visit reputable sites including the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, and our very own Cognitive Vitality website.
  • Supplement manufacturers and distributors often make vague or exaggerated claims about brain health. Dietary supplements can be sold on the market without governmental review of their safety and efficacy, or the validity of their health claims, so you should approach these claims with skepticism.
  • If you choose to take supplements, look for third-party verification of their quality. The quality of ingredients in supplements can vary widely, and the ingredients in supplements are not reviewed for their purity and content by government agencies before being sold. Some may contain harmful ingredients not listed on the label. Look for products that have been tested by an independent third party such as:, Labdoor, NSF International, and US Pharmacopeia.

Although the evidence to date does not point to a magic pill that promotes lifelong brain health, new evidence is emerging every day. In the report, the GCBH encouraged supplement manufacturers to conduct rigorous clinical trials to test their claims for brain health and to have the data independently reviewed by other scientists who can evaluate the supplements' effects in an unbiased way. In the meantime, there are seven steps to protect your cognitive vitality that you can start following right away, including eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, reducing stress, being social, learning new things, and managing chronic diseases (e.g., high blood pressure, diabetes).

Yuko Hara, PhD, is Director of Aging and Alzheimer's Prevention at the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation. Dr. Hara was previously an Assistant Professor in Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she remains an adjunct faculty member. Her research focused on brain aging, specifically how estrogens and reproductive aging influence the aging brain's synapses and mitochondria. She earned a doctorate in neurology and neuroscience at Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences of Cornell University and a bachelor's degree in biology from Cornell University, with additional study at Keio University in Japan. Dr. Hara has authored numerous peer-reviewed publications, including articles in PNAS and Journal of Neuroscience.

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