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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Brain Health Supplements - Yay or Nay

Well you know the boomers have arrived into their later years! I have seen quite a few commercials for brain health vitamins and supplements on TV. I really start to get concerned when I hear the limited amount of information about the effectiveness of these products. I live brain health everyday and I have researched all kinds of approaches to keeping your brain young and sharp. My concern is that these marketing techniques make you believe that this is the magic pill that will solve all of your brain aging/brain health problems. And, what is more dangerous is the belief that there is no differentiation between brain aging problems and actual brain disease situations. People will grasp at anything when they are afraid.

Brain Health Supplement vs Pharmaceutical

How does a brain health supplement differ from a pharmaceutical? There is a great deal of differences between the two. Pharmaceuticals go through rigorous testing and must be approved by the FDA before they are brought to market. It is a very expensive protocol to bring a drug to market. The chemistry of pharmaceuticals must be deemed effective to work for the outcomes of the conditions for which it was developed. Side effects are scrutinized and much data is collected to prove effectiveness. Even after much research, if the drug isn’t performing as expected or there are too many serious side-effects the clinical study is stopped.

The Reach of the FDA

Supplements are different in the production to market process. They are designed to provide the body with natural nutrients or assist in natural processes. Because these ingredients are natural, little or no side effects are expected. The supplement industry does not go through the rigorous research process on the way to market. They do not go through the FDA approval process. The FDA prohibits supplement makers from making specific health claims, but judging from the commercials that certain brain health companies run, they have found a way to tout wonderous benefits anyway. Letters from the FDA have gone out to certain manufacturers requiring that they alter their advertisements to not overstate their products’ benefits.

25% of Adults Over 50 Take a Supplement

I started researching supplements because I teach a nutrition module as part of The Ageless Brain Lifestyle course. There have been many people who hear me speak ask for my opinion on the brain health supplements that are advertised or they see in the market. The latest research indicates that 25% of adults over age 50 take a supplement to improve their brain health while enhancing their memory skills and boosting their focus and attention. There is a big problem with this scenario – there is no proof that any of them work!

Marketing Brain Health Supplements

It is aggravating to watch a commercial with big claims and no proof of effectiveness. The marketing works for these companies because non-vitamin supplements such as, minerals, herbal mixtures, nurtraceuticals, or amino acids is pushing expenditures well into the billions of dollars. People fear getting Alzheimer’s disease and brain aging can cause some minor glitches in brain function. So people grasp at the first thing they think might work to save their brain. The cost isn’t cheap either. These supplements can run anywhere from $20 to $60 a month. For those on fixed incomes this can amount to quite a tidy sum of money they could be using on healthy food.

The Proof of Effectiveness Lies in Whole Food

Some older adults approach me after I have relayed the information I have about supplements to tell me that they do take a particular brain health supplement and it does make them feel better. Many brain health supplements do contain certain vitamins and fatty acids that do promote brain health. The problem is – there is no testing to prove that these vitamins in the supplement compound have any effect on brain health. The proof lies in whole food. Our body will utilize the nutrients it needs in just the right amount when we gat our nutrients from food.

I understand that it is so much easier to get your nutrients from a pill rather than change your eating habits. But your brain will love you and you will save money by be careful what you eat.


DeKosky, S. (June 21, 2019). Brain health supplements don’t work, new study shows. Retrieved December 3, 2019 from

Harvard Health Publishing. (September, 2019). Don’t buy into brain health supplements. Retrieved December 3, 2019 from Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

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