Do "Brain Boosting" Memory Supplements Work?

Dietary supplements make up a ubiquitous $40 billion industry. Some of the 50,000 different types of supplements out there claim to improve your mood, energy, vitamin levels and overall health. Prevagen is one of the most popular supplements and says it can help protect against mild memory loss, boost brain function and improve thinking in seniors.

But is there any truth to these claims? According to a review of studies by Consumer Reports in 2018, there's virtually no good evidence that products such as Prevagen can "prevent or delay memory lapses, mild cognitive impairment, or dementia in older adults."

CNN Medical Correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, agrees. "A quarter of Americans over 50 take 'brain-boosting' supplements, but after two years of investigation, I could find little proof they improve memory, sharpen attention and focus, or prevent cognitive decline or dementia, no matter what the manufacturers claim." A large 2020 study led by Harvard further showed that multivitamin or mineral supplements don't improve overall health.


So What Should You Do Instead?

While common wisdom suggests that leisure activities like gardening, playing cards, attending cultural events and doing crosswords help delay cognitive decline in seniors, studies have not found an association between these types of activities and a decreased incidence of dementia.


BRAIN FITNESS: Brain work-outs that require enhanced reasoning and memory abilities such as learning a new language have been found to increase cognitive processing speed and sharpened reasoning skills.


RELATIONSHIPS: A better strategy is to engage with others and work on our relationships. Gupta says "Instead of spending time passively using a computer screen or binge-watching shows, use that time for virtual chats with friends and family. As I like to say, connection for protection."


EXERCISE: Exercise is another vital part of maintaining brain health. In 2011, one study estimated that one million cases of Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. were due to a sedentary lifestyle according to Consumer Reports. Physical activity such as walking or yoga may delay or slow cognitive decline.


BLOOD PRESSURE: Lowering blood pressure dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are risk factors for memory loss. Researchers have known about the link between blood pressure and Alzheimer’s for years. In 2013, investigators at Johns Hopkins showed that older people with high blood pressure or hypertension were more likely to have biomarkers of Alzheimer’s in their spinal fluid. Those who took commonly prescribed blood pressure medications were half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those who didn’t.


Our Advice To You

Forget the expensive memory supplements and vitamins that are supposed to improve brain health for seniors. You can keep your brain healthy even more effectively by yourself. The prescription? Take a brisk walk with a close friend every day, keep your blood pressure under control, and keep on learning. There is no magic bullet. These strategies may seem very simple but they are foundational to having a healthy and happy brain.