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Are ‘brain enhancers’ effective?

By on February 22, 2021 in Columnist with 2 Comments
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

I am sure all of us have seen ads for so-called “brain or memory” enhancers like Prevagen hundreds of times on television. 

I have been skeptical of these claims and concerned at how effective the manufacturers have been in selling this blockbuster product to unsuspecting — often elderly — buyers. 

There is no doubt these ads are effective, as consumers have paid over $165,000,000 for this product since its launch in 2007. 

Their official website calls Prevagen the number 1 brain performance product, although there is no proof of its effectiveness anywhere. 

If nothing else, it shows how effective clever advertising can be to the unsuspecting public. 

So what is this product and what does it really do? 

It contains one component, a protein called apoaequorin that originally came from a specific type of jellyfish that glows. This protein is now manufactured and recommended as a dietary supplement. 

Many similar so-called brain enhancers are packed with fillers and other low quality ingredients that also have not proven to be effective and many of which have unpleasant side effects. 

Dietary supplements can include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, amino acids and other dietary ingredients. 

Manufacturers are not required to test these products for safety or effectiveness. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does regulate dietary supplements but treats them as foods rather than medications, which would have to show they are safe and effective. 

The FDA sued the marketing of the nationally advertised memory supplement Prevagen based on a study showing it worked no better than a placebo. 

The director of the Federal Trade Commission said the marketers forgot to back their claims with real scientific evidence.

After seeing the claims repeatedly on television made by the Prevagen manufacturers, I felt compelled to investigate if there were any basis for the efficacy of this product. 

As you can see, there isn’t any scientific basis supporting their claims. 

I feel sad to see so many unsuspecting, hopeful and trusting seniors shelling out an average of $60 monthly for a product that has been proven to be essentially worthless. 

There are many other so-called brain enhancers on the market that have not been proven to be effective. 

Consumers, please be wary of over-the-counter medical product claims that seem “to good to be true.” 

Talk to your doctor or neurologist about your concerns first.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Nick Gerde says:

    I really appreciated Dr. Brown’s column in the March 2021 issue related to “Brain Enhancers” . The advertising for the product he discussed is everywhere, and the curiosity someone my age (76) has with a parent that had some memory loss and dementia history is significant. Health care professionals I have talked to previously were not as straight forward in explaining the science in simple terms. Very useful to me. Thanks!!

  2. I appreciated the article also as someone who had Alzheimer’s in our family. I have one question — the FDA sued the marketers of Prevagen, but I find any reference about the outcome of the suit.

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