An elderly lady was at the pharmacy window picking up prescriptions and needed help finding a OTC product. She had been taking something for memory, but could not remember its name. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny. The culprit here was Prevagen and I was able to point her in a more reasonable direction. This was made easier by the exorbitant price of Prevagen.

I recently asked a student pharmacist, Thuy “Tina” Ngan Vo, to look into some of the “brain boosting” products that we offer. Although I have posted about Prevagen previously, I felt that her research added new facets to the discussion and bolstered the argument against spending money on these products. I was especially pleased to see Tina take a close look at the “clinical studies” used to market these expensive products. Her original paper is on this site, but I’d like to put my two cents in also.

I’ve already called out Prevagen as snake oil and not worth a dime, let alone more than a buck a pill. The only study that purportedly showed any action at all showed that apoaequorin (active ingredient in Prevagen) infused directly to rat brains may have slowed ischemic cell death. The study was totally funded by the manufacturer, not peer reviewed and the claims of memory enhancement are total bullshit. Though the manufacturer cites many clinical trials, actual peer reviewed trials are non-existent. So, to be clear, when you take a Prevagen pill, any apoaequorin present (if any) will be destroyed by your digestive tract, you may get a peptide or two or some amino acids, but the rest will be tomorrow’s poop. Shame on Quincy Bioscience.

Maybe the patient should try Natrol’s Cognium, that sounds pretty science-y, right? Here we find silk protein hydrolysate. Wow! That sounds impressive! But, digging a little deeper we find more bad science, and in this case a set of six trials by the same author. One published manuscript was retracted due to data fabrication and falsification by the authors. Even the best of these “studies” claims a meager 1.7% improvement in cognition. Save your money!

So maybe one the many herbal supplements would be a good choice. Have a look at Healthy Brain All-Day Focus. This has some vitamins, ginkgo, some roots and other crap (see Tina’s paper) none of which, if present, will help. One ingredient, Rhodiola Rosea root was shown in one study on intern nurses on shift work to actually worsen fatigue! Stop wasting your money! Don’t have a brain fart!

So what can this patient do to help sustain and possibly improve her memory and brain function? As Tina points out, higher homocysteine levels have been associated with Alzheimer’s as well as an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is a by product of protein digestion, particularly methionine, which most of us consume as animal protein. I would suggest this patient start with a reputable B-complex vitamin supplement, with good representation of vitamins B-9 (folic acid), B-6, and B-12, just in case her diet is lacking in these vitamins which help to detoxify homocysteine.

Notice that I said “reputable.” These products are unregulated and what is stated on the label may not truly represent the contents. I look for the US Pharmacopeia symbol to be sure that we have a product that meets scientific standards.

Beyond a good B-Complex supplement, I also recommend:
Try new things that require learning. Make it real, the FTC warns that these brain game apps overstate their usefulness. Working a crossword or finishing a puzzle is good but learning new things is even better.
Be physical. Stay active. Walking is the easiest and requires no special equipment. Swim.
Avoid nicotine. Limit consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
Maintain a healthy blood pressure to avoid strain on your cardiovascular system and avoid accelerated organ damage and strokes.
Besides, ginkgo, there is no proof that vitamin E, ginseng, or mass quantities of fish oil are of much benefit.
Modify your diet to eliminate as many processed foods as possible and limit your consumption of animal protein other than fish. Although there is that worrisome connection between methionine and homocysteine, we do need methionine (it is an essential amino acid) so do not try to completely eliminate if from your diet. Moderation is key.
Socialize to improve your mood and engagement. Love your loved ones and live and act for others when you can.