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? – MarketWatch.com
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.

Church daycare investigated for using melatonin on kids.

I realize that kids can be a lot to handle and that this is doubly so in a daycare environment, but it’s probably going a bit too far when you attempt to drug them into sleeping:

The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office and Springfield Township police are probing the daycare at Covenant Apostolic Church, 7630 View Place Drive, according to a letter Police Chief David Heimpold sent to children’s parents on Monday. Police also personally called each parent.

At issue is whether workers gave children Melatonin to help them sleep during the daycare’s naptime, according to the chief.

“The investigation has just begun and the Springfield Township Police Department does not know definitively at this time which staff members were involved in providing the dietary supplement to the children and which children were given (it),” the chief wrote. “However, we are providing this information to you at this time so that you can take whatever actions you deem necessary to protect your child or children in the event that they were given Melatonin on one or more occasions.”

The letter urges parents to contact their family physicians or the Poison Control Center to learn basic information about the drug.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring compound in plants, animals, and microbes. In animals it plays a role in regulating the circadian rhythms of a number of biological functions. In humans it’s produced by the pineal gland and it forms part of the system for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Production of melatonin is inhibited by light and permitted by darkness and it’s onset each night is called the Dim-Light Melatonin Onset (DLMO). Melatonin has been marketed as a natural form of sleeping pill. The idea seems to be that if you’re having trouble falling asleep then just dope yourself up with the hormone that puts you to sleep. Overall most studies seem to indicate that it’s safe to use at low dosages for three months or less.

The problem with dietary supplements (read: “drugs” not under the FDA’s jurisdiction) is that there’s no real regulation or quality requirements so how much of dose you’re taking can vary wildly between manufacturers. Add to that the fact that, according to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the 3 milligram pills most commonly sold are way more melatonin than is actually needed. They found that a mere 0.3 mg is enough to do the job. Then there’s the fact that at high doses it can be counter-productive and can include side effects such as headaches, nausea, next-day grogginess or irritability, hormone fluctuations, vivid dreams or nightmares and reduced blood flow. Now stir in the fact that most people (read: idiots) see the word “natural” and assume it means 100% completely safe and will never harm you now matter how much you consume and you can begin to see why feeding this to kids may not be a great idea.

In all fairness, we keep a bottle of melatonin on hand in the house ourselves and it does help on those occasions when insomnia has me in its grip, but I’m an adult who has taken the time to research what it is and what it does and what the risks are and make an informed choice on whether to take it. There’s no way in hell I’d put my kids in a daycare that was feeding it to the kids. In part because most kids don’t need it as they produce melatonin just fine (Here’s a hint: try drawing the shades and turning off the lights). More importantly, though, is if they’re giving the kids melatonin then what the hell else are they giving them that I don’t know about?

Fortunately for me, my kid is 19 and well out of daycare.