July 8-14, 2019
By Nan Selz
Executive Council, AARP Arkansas
Beware: Anti-dementia supplements
We all worry about dementia as we age, and our anxiety presents an opportunity for exploitation. Ads in newspapers, on TV and online include claims for dozens of “memory enhancing” supplements – Ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, huperzine A, caprylic acid and coconut oil, coral calcium and the list goes on. However, the Alzheimer’s Association points to research that has tested them all and, with the possible exception of omega-3 fatty acids, none work as advertised.
We all wish it were as easy as swallowing a few pills to maintain our cognitive powers which is why dietary supplements promoting brain health have become a $3.2-billion industry. Adding to our confusion is the fact that supplement manufacturers do not have to test their products for effectiveness or safety. Under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, they can claim that a supplement enhances memory as long as the product doesn’t specifically claim to prevent, treat or cure dementia.
Even with so much latitude, some ads still step over the line. The Food and Drug Administration recently issued 12 warning letters and five advisory letters to companies that were marketing 58 dietary supplements with false claims. Dr. Joanna Hellmuth, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, Memory and Aging Center, was quoted in the January issue of JAMA saying, “No known dietary supplement prevents cognitive decline or dementia.”
Supplements are only one aspect of the anti-dementia industry. A future column will address the marketing of mind-enhancing games which often claim results that are equally misleading. In the meantime, we should focus on lifestyle, making sure we eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep – all of which can be linked to better mental as well as physical well-being.
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