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US health experts warn against false nutraceutical 'brain boosting' claims

2019-07-03 09:16 Wednesday

Research analysts in the U.S. have released a report aimed at retirees and the elderly to rebuff claims made by companies that market supplements and health foods as having properties that can boost brain health or stem the effects of diseases including Alzheimer's.


The report, released by the Global Counsel on Brain Health (GCBH) and the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), recommends outright that most consumers do not take supplements for this purpose. They concluded that dietary supplements have no impact on the improvement of brain health or helping to prevent cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer's.

“The GCBH reviewed the scientific evidence on various supplements and determined it could not endorse any ingredient, production, or formulation designed for brain health,” according to a statement from the AARP.

Brain health supplements are big business, and the market is growing in size. Distributors in this sector netted US$3 billion in sales in 2016 and are estimated to earn some $5.8 billion by 2023. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, 69% of adults in their 50s and over are currently taking a dietary supplement at least 3 times a week and 8% percent say they are taking one to “reverse dementia.” Such claims are impossible to make, according to the latest report. Nonetheless, many consumers are steered toward such hopes because of misleading information or nuanced wording on the part of the supplement marketing industry, which is highly competitive and can be confusing.

As it stands, dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, yet 49% of older adults in the States think the has to FDA approve dietary supplements as being safe and effective before they are sold, according to a study carried out in 2019.

Under the law, it is illegal for dietary supplement companies to make any claim that their product can prevent, treat or cure a disease. If any marketer wants to say their product can reduce the risk of an identifiable disease, they must notify the authority first and get authorization before printing the claim on any label. In 2019 alone, the FDA sent warning notices to multiple companies specifically claiming that their supplements could treat Alzheimer's.

The report cited a long list of specific printed claims as misleading, including: “A dietary supplement that has been clinically shown to help with mild memory problems associated with aging”, “Clinically shown to be safe and support memory and brain function”, “Clinically proven natural ingredients” and “Helps your brain maintain healthy neurons to support learning and recall.” The report also warns that supplements may have too much, too little, or, in some cases, none of the ingredients consumers think they are buying when they consume the product, typically on a regular and frequent basis.

“It is tempting to think you can pop a pill and prevent dementia, but the science says that does not work,” says Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP senior vice president for Policy and Executive Director of the counsel. “We know what keeps your brain healthy: exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, challenging your thinking skills, and connecting with others.”

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