The market for brain health supplements has exploded in recent years, with many companies promising to boost memory, focus, and overall cognitive performance. Heck, I’ve seen some brain supplement peddlers claiming that their product can reverse memory loss and even Alzheimer’s disease. There is limited scientific evidence to support the use of these supplements, but that hasn’t stopped people from spending billions on them. In fact, a 2019 report by the Global Council of Brain Health projected that by this year (2023), people globally will spend more than $5 billion a year on brain supplements.
But do brain health supplements really work? In this article, I’m going to tell you all you need to know about these supplements, and why it is not a wise decision to spend your hard-earned money on them. However, let’s begin with the benefits of taking brain supplements, shall we?
Benefits of Brain Health Supplements
There is evidence that some brain supplements can increase brain metabolism, enhance cognitive function, and have protective effects on the brain. These supplements include caffeine, some B vitamins, L-Theanine (an amino acid), and Omega-3 fatty acids. However, you can easily get these nutrients from your regular balanced diet. As for the vitamins, you only need to supplement them if you’re deficient in them due to severe disease conditions, or pregnant (to avoid fetal malformation).
That said, here are the reasons why you should not waste your money on brain health supplements:
Lack of Regulation
First and foremost, brain health supplements are not regulated by the FDA or other national food and drug regulating bodies in the same way that prescription drugs are. This means that manufacturers of brain health supplements are not required to prove their products’ safety and effectiveness before they hit the market. While the FDA does have some oversight over the supplement industry, it is largely up to the manufacturers to ensure that their products are safe and effective. This lack of regulation means that consumers have no way of knowing whether the supplements they are taking are safe or effective.
Lack of Scientific Evidence
Many of the claims made by brain health supplement manufacturers are based on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific research. For example, a company may claim that their supplement boosts memory because a few people who have taken the supplement report improved memory. However, without scientific studies that compare the supplement to a placebo or other treatment, it is impossible to know whether the supplement is actually responsible for the reported effects.
In addition, the ingredients used in brain health supplements have not been thoroughly studied. Some manufacturers may use ingredients that have been shown to have some cognitive benefits, such as omega-3 fatty acids or caffeine. However, the doses and formulations used in brain health supplements may not be the same as those used in studies that have shown these benefits. Furthermore, the potential interactions between different ingredients in brain health supplements are not well understood. It is possible that some combinations of ingredients may be harmful, but there is no way to know without more research.
So Many Unrealistic Claims
Another issue with brain health supplements is that they often make unrealistic or exaggerated claims. Many manufacturers claim that their supplements can improve cognitive performance in healthy individuals. However, there is little evidence to support these claims. Most of the research on cognitive-enhancing supplements has focused on people with cognitive deficits, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is unclear whether the same benefits would be seen in healthy individuals.
Moreover, the benefits of brain health supplements, even in people with cognitive deficits, are often small and short-lived. For example, a 2015 review of the evidence on omega-3 fatty acid supplements found that while they may have some benefits in people with mild cognitive impairment, the benefits were small and only lasted for a few months. Similarly, a 2012 review of the evidence on ginkgo biloba supplements found that while they may have some benefits in people with Alzheimer’s disease, the benefits were also small and only lasted for a few months. Researchers have concluded that the evidence available for these supplements is not of high quality and more research is needed.
Brain Supplements Cannot Compensate for Bad Lifestyle Choices
One reason why brain health supplements may not work as well as people hope is that cognitive performance is influenced by many factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and environment. While supplements may be able to address specific deficiencies or imbalances, they cannot make up for a lack of sleep, poor diet, or other lifestyle factors that can have a negative impact on cognitive performance. In other words, brain health supplements may be a small piece of the puzzle, but they are unlikely to have a major impact on cognitive performance on their own.
Can Be Expensive
Finally, there is the issue of cost. Brain health supplements can be expensive, with some costing hundreds of dollars per month. For many people, the cost of these supplements may be prohibitive, especially if they are not covered by insurance. Given the lack of evidence supporting the effectiveness of these supplements, it is difficult to justify the expense.
How Can I Improve My Brain Health?
Here are the things you can do to improve your brain health and boost your memory:
- Eat a balanced diet rich in brain-boosting nutrients.
- Exercise your body regularly.
- Stop smoking.
- Stop, or limit your alcohol intake.
- Make sure you get adequate sleep daily.
- Socialize often.
- Treat any underlying disease, especially chronic ones like diabetes and hypertension.
- Exercise your brain by solving puzzles, reading, etc.
There is ample evidence that doing any of these things can significantly boost your brain health and improve your cognitive function.
The Bottom Line
Brain health supplements are not a magic bullet for improving cognitive performance. While some of the ingredients used in these supplements may have some cognitive benefits, there is limited scientific evidence to support long-lasting effectiveness in curing dementia and memory loss. Eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising, and modifying your lifestyle is more beneficial to your brain health than any supplement. So it’s best to dedicate your time and resources to them than to supplements.