Howard Fillit, MD, Founding Executive Director and Chief Science Officer of the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), served as an expert contributor to The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) newly-released report that concludes dietary supplements do not improve brain health or prevent cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer's disease, and recommends that most consumers not take supplements for this purpose.
The GCBH reviewed the scientific evidence on various supplements and determined it could not endorse any ingredient, product or formulation designed for brain health. Instead, they recommend a healthy diet as a way for most people to get the nutrients they need to benefit their brains. The GCBH is an independent organization, created by AARP in collaboration with Age UK, to provide trusted information on how consumers can maintain and improve their brain health.
Many dietary supplements marketed to consumers as improving brain health have claims like "clinically shown to help with mild memory problems associated with aging" and "scientifically proven nutrients for a healthier brain." While all medications sold in the U.S. are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, dietary supplements are not considered medications—they can be sold without premarket review of their safety, efficacy, or truthfulness of their claims. Brain health supplements generated $3 billion in sales in 2016, and new research conducted by AARP found that 26 percent of adults age 50 and older in the US take one or more supplements to improve or maintain their brain health.
"Evaluating evidence can be difficult, even for experts," says Dr. Fillit. "Patients and their healthcare providers need reliable sources of information on the many supplements advertised as reported to improve brain health. The ADDF developed CognitiveVitality.org to help consumers and healthcare providers make informed decisions about brain health, including the safety and efficacy of individual supplements currently available on the market."
The GCBH report highlights practical tips for individuals, including:
- Discuss with your health provider any vitamins and supplements you are taking, and their possible risks, benefits and interactions. Your health provider may recommend a supplement if you are nutrient-deficient or are at risk of becoming so due to diet, lifestyle or other health issues.
- Before taking a supplement, ask yourself whether you are already getting enough nutrients through your diet or a multivitamin. Are any claims about its benefits supported by high quality research?
- Remember that more is not always better—some vitamins, minerals and other ingredients can be toxic at high levels.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Beware if a supplement claims to improve brain health or memory, make you smarter, or cure a disease.
"It's tempting to think you can pop a pill and prevent dementia—but the science says that doesn't work," said Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy and Executive Director of the GCBH. "The good news is, we know what will help to keep your brain healthy: exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, challenging your thinking skills, and connecting with others. Rather than buying a dietary supplement, spend your money on new walking shoes or a salmon dinner."
Dr. Fillit will join Lock and Dr. Paul Coates, PhD, former director of the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the Global Council on Brain Health's Expert Discussion, June 12-26, in the AARP.org Online Community. To participate, simply ask a question by reply post!