You’ve probably seen the commercials for those supplements that promise to keep your mind as sharp as it was when you were young. The supplement makers promise that their products are clinically proven to prevent mental decline as you age, improve memory, or boost cognition. Is it possible to use supplements to keep your brain young and if so, which ones fulfill their promises?
It used to be that people joked about those obvious signs of aging. The glasses left perched on the head, forgetting people’s names or what you went into a room for. Many people can conjure a perfect memory of something that happened thirty years ago, but have no recollection of yesterday’s lunch. Along with a youthful look and strong body, it is now expected that a person will keep his or her brain young, too. The memory loss, forgetfulness, and difficulty recalling important information is no longer accepted as a natural part of aging, but is viewed as easily preventable through mental exercises and supplements containing specific ingredients.
There are a variety of products on the market today that make bold claims in regard to boosting brain power. Pills with DHA, an omega-3 found in fish oil, claim to improve memory and protect the brain. Ginko biloba has long been thought to encourage an alert mind and improve memory. B vitamins are thought to be beneficial to the brain and memory. Many of the brain supplements sound like medication: Vinpocetine for increasing blood flow to the brain or Huperzine A for increasing memory. The big question most people have is whether the supplements will work as they claim to, and whether someone who uses these supplements will see an improvement in memory or overall brain function.
In most cases, unfortunately, the answer is no. Despite the claims made by marketing departments, even the claims that tout a product as FDA approved, there is very little evidence that they actually work as promised. There is no hard evidence that ginko biloba slows cognitive decline, or that B vitamins can help the brain function better. Some supplements may result in a slight improvement in memory or brain function, such as the studies that show DHA can help some people with existing memory issues. Overall, though, in research trials, most of the supplements have shown to be no more effective than a placebo, even when used long term.
It turns out that the best things you can do for your brain are what you already do to keep your body in tip-top shape: exercise, cut out unhealthy foods such as those high in saturated fat or trans fat, and pay attention to your blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk for diseases such as heart disease, stroke or diabetes. It turns out that keeping your brain in good shape doesn’t require rocket science, just common sense.