There are many over-the-counter products that contain ingredients advertised to improve memory and cognitive function. Some well-known ingredients include apoaequorin (Prevagen®), omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B and E, and ginkgo biloba. Over the years, public interest in brain health supplements has become more widespread, which begs the question: Should I be taking supplements to improve my brain health? Below are a few commonly ask questions regarding brain health supplements, as well as their corresponding answers.
Are they safe and effective?
Contrary to popular belief, supplements do not have to go through the same rigorous requirements as prescription medications. This means that the safety and efficacy of these supplements does not have to be proven by clinical trials before they are marketed and sold. The benefits of these supplements are often overstated by manufacturers for marketing purposes, and they are largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
What do the experts say?
The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) is an independent group of scientists, health professionals, and policy experts that offers reputable advice on how to maintain and improve brain health. Based on current best evidence, the GCBH does not recommend any dietary supplement for brain health. Brain health supplements have not been shown to delay the onset of dementia, nor can they prevent, treat, or reverse Alzheimer’s disease. The GCBH states, “Save your money, honey!”
What can I do to improve my brain health?
Instead of supplements, the GCBH recommends the following to protect and improve your brain health:
- Maintain a balanced diet: A plant-based diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is linked to better brain health. Fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, grains, and other wholesome foods support well-being.
- Stay physically active: Physical activity has been shown to improve cognition in adults and also helps promote healthy aging. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week with two sessions of strength training. Check with your doctor on what types of exercise are safe for you.
- Stay socially connected: Long periods of social isolation can undermine brain health. Find ways to connect with family and friends; communicate in person, phone, email, or by other means.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule: A good sleep schedule is important for maintaining brain health. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep in a 24-hour period.
- Stimulate your brain: Cognitively stimulating activities help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Engage in enjoyable cognitively stimulating activities – this includes but is not limited to reading, crossword puzzles, listening to music, and playing cards.
Where can I look if I have further questions?
For more information regarding brain health and supplements, visit the following websites:
- Global Council on Brain Health (via AARP)
- Cognitive Vitality
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Remember, you should always consult your primary care provider or community pharmacist before starting any new medications or supplements.
Prepared by Vanessa Chan, PharmD Candidate 2022
- Global Council on Brain Health (2018). Brain Food: GCBH Recommendations on Nourishing Your Brain Health. Washington, DC: Global Council on Brain Health. https://doi.org/10.26419/pia.00019.001
- Global Council on Brain Health (2019). The Real Deal on Brain Health Supplements: GCBH Recommendations on Vitamins, Minerals, and Other Dietary Supplements. https://doi.org/10.26419/pia.00094.001
- Global Council on Brain Health (2021). COVID-19 and Brain Health: The Global Council on Brain Health’s Recommendations on What to Do Now. https://doi.org/10.26419/pia.00104.001