Brain supplements are a waste of money.

If you’re getting on in years you may have noticed that a lot of web advertising these days consists of pitches for supplements that are supposed to improve “brain health” and prevent things like Alzheimer’s and Dementia. The industry that makes these products pulls down $3.2 billion every year showing that there’s lots of folks worried about falling victim to these conditions as they age. There’s just one problem with these products: None of them have been demonstrated to do a damned thing other than drain your wallet.

“This $3.2-billion industry … benefits from high-penetration consumer advertising through print media, radio, television and the internet,” the neurologists wrote. “No known dietary supplement prevents cognitive decline or dementia, yet supplements advertised as such are widely available and appear to gain legitimacy when sold by major U.S. retailers.”

Are brain supplements a big waste of money? –
Image by Melanie Simon from Pixabay

It’s bad enough that these bullshit products are sold alongside legitimate medicines at your local pharmacy, but apparently there are also licenced medical personnel that are pushing pseudo-medical treatments:

“Some of these practitioners may stand to gain financially by promoting interventions that are not covered by insurance, such as intravenous nutrition, personalized detoxification, chelation therapy, antibiotics or stem cell therapy. These interventions lack a known mechanism for treating dementia and are costly, unregulated and potentially harmful,” the article states.

There are a lot of companies out there that are eager to cash in on your fears. According to the MarketWatch article, the FDA ‘issued a statement saying it posted 17 warning and advisory letters to domestic and foreign companies that illegally sell 58 products — many of them dietary supplements — that claim to prevent, treat or cure Alzheimer’s disease and other serious health conditions. […] “These products may be ineffective, unsafe and could prevent a person from seeking an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.”’

Unfortunately, the MarketWatch article takes a nosedive in the latter half by talking with a naturopath who proscribes Homeopathic treatments which is another big woo-woo bullshit industry. To her credit she agrees that using dietary supplements that aren’t backed by solid research is a problem, but that’s about the only credit she deserves. Homeopathy is an even bigger batch of nonsense than the dietary supplement industry. At least the supplements contain actual ingredients.

Don’t fall for the bullshit. The causes of Dementia and Alzheimer’s are complex and promising research is ongoing, but so far nothing has been shown to be an effective preventative of these conditions. Not only are brain health supplements just a waste of money, but they’re also potentially harmful and could end up interacting with other prescription drugs you may be taking in negative ways.

Hell, this is true for dietary supplements in general. Most do nothing other than cost money. Some are dangerous when taken with other prescription medication. Vitamin supplements are arguably useful, but only when your doctor says you actually need them. If you’re already getting all the vitamins you need from your diet then you will literally piss away anything extra you get from a supplement.

3 thoughts on “Brain supplements are a waste of money.

  1. While it is true they are full of it..most of the supplement industry is full of it as is the medical industry, hyping the next great thing .It is also true of the cosmetic industry, the auto industry..all industry.
    It runs on alot of hot air, generated to sell things.
    “Science” whored itself out to industry a long time ago. (go over to retraction watch)

    May of the supplements marketed are made by the big pharma manufacturers like Roche. In fact Many moons ago, i went to a naturopath and decided to investigate the company producing the incredible array of pills and nostrums he pushed.
    Turns out that company was started by a high power hedge fund in manhatten. Heaklth is BIG BUSINESS.

    That said there ARE certain things that work called Nootropics (i’ve been experimenting with these for over 35 years) things like Vinpocetine (which dilates blood vessels enhances blood flow), or DMAE , among other compounds which do actually enhance mental function.

    The other thing i can tell you, as a rabid reader in nutritional studies the biggest factor in Alzheimers and Dementia is nutrition.
    They are currently running studies on Vets here in WA state that show that a whole food plant based diet combats dementia and alzheimers in those who already have it. Inflammation and inhibited blood flow seem to be the problem. The animal based proteins seem to promote inflammation while the fats and oils clog arteries inhibiting blood flow.
    (i have seen studies showing that most back problems are actually due to poor blood flow from clogged arteries.)

    Most people get upset when i tout a whole food plant based diet..but i can tell you this:my head never felt so clear since i adopted it, i can think more clearly than i could in my 20s.

    In other research,they have also done an amazing recent study in people with parkinson’s disease showing that simply taking up ballroom dancing 3 times a week, reversed the Parkinson’s disease. amazing


  2. Sorry, that may have sounded “preachy” and i did not mean to come across that way.
    My grandmother and mother both contracted dementia. My gran passed at 98 of congestive heart failure. Recently my mom had had a stroke, had dementia and passed at 82 from congestive heart failure and kidney failure.
    Gran had had the benefit of eating produce straight off her farm for many many years..which my mom did not have in later years.

    I was always loosely a vegetarian, on and off. Then getting tired of feeling brain fog all the time i decided to go head started clearing.
    The hardest thing to give up (which both my gran and mom also loved, and probably part of what did them in) was potato chips and greasy salad dressings like mayonnaise.

    Knowing that this could happen to me, scared me enough that i had to pull out all stops.

  3. Erika, while I don’t disagree with your statement that a lot of industries are full of it, most industries at least have some legitimate products among all the bullshit. Penicillin does what it says on the tin. As does aspirin. Supplements, by and large, are unnecessary at best (vitamins) and outright fraud at worst (brain supplements). The bullshit-to-legit ratio in the supplement industry is tilted way over to the bullshit side.

    And, yes, no one is cashing in on supplement sales more than Big Pharma. Why wouldn’t they? It’s largely unregulated and it pulls in a ton of money and the point of a company is to make money. That said, just because Big Pharma is selling it doesn’t mean you should buy it or that you need it.

    As for Nootropics, I’ve yet to see any research that suggest they improve brain function to any significant degree. In fact, most studies I’ve read — and there aren’t a lot of them — on Nootropics indicate they don’t impact cognitive function at all and the long-term side effects of usage are unknown. They fall into the same classification of dietary supplement by the Federal government and I have no reason to expect they’d be any different than the rest. I would argue that any perceived benefit is the result of the placebo effect and/or confirmation bias. That said, I’m not an expert and it’s your money so if you feel it’s working for you then more power to you, but I remain unconvinced.

    For your consideration, the folks at GQ did an article on Nootropics this past October. A snippet:

    “Certain people might benefit from certain combinations of certain things,” he told me. “But across populations, there is still no conclusive proof that substances of this class improve cognitive functions.” And with no way to reliably measure the impact of a given substance on one’s mental acuity, one’s sincere beliefs about “what works” probably have a lot to do with, say, how demanding their day was, or whether they ate breakfast, or how susceptible they are to the placebo effect.

    Nutrition, along with exercise and getting enough sleep, does play a role in Alzheimer’s and Dementia. The research does suggest that a diet higher in fruits and vegetables does help, but I’ve seen nothing suggesting that a full on vegetarian diet is best. Rather a Mediterranean diet, which primarily includes plant-based foods along with chicken and fish and limiting red meat to a few times a month, appears to be the advice given at the moment.

    As for sounding “preachy”, I didn’t take your comment that way and I hope you will not take my reply as a direct criticism as it is not intended as such.

    I don’t worry too much about alzheimer’s or dementia. Cancer tends to be what takes out members of my family. My great-grandmother on my mother’s side lived to 99 and had dementia in the last years. My grandmother on my mother’s side may have been suffering from dementia when she passed in her 70’s, but I believe it was cancer that did her in. (Could’ve been spite too, but that’s a long story.) My mother has made it to 84 and is doing well cognitively. Should I make it through my 70’s (not common among my relatives) I’m not too worried that I’ll lose my marbles. Right now I’m focusing on getting through 55 as that’s the age my biological father passed from, you guessed it, cancer.

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