It’s a good idea to ask questions about supplements. After all, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the industry other than to clamp down on outrageous claims of muscle strength, sexual enhancement or heart health.
Brain boosters are the latest type of supplement that promise to keep your brain agile into your later years when Alzheimer’s disease threatens to wipe out memory and cognitive function. But are the benefits believable?
What is believable is that the supplement industry has enjoyed a ten-fold increase in the number of brain-boosting supplements marketed in the U.S. in the last twenty years.
According to Fair Warning, health product retailer GNC lists 354 products on its website with the word “brain.”
Sparked by the claims made by Quincy Bioscience of Madison, Wis. the makers of Prevagen, the Federal Trade Commission and New York State authorities sued the maker alleging the company makes false and unsubstantiated claims.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman believes the aggressive marketing is fraud that targets a vulnerable group – older Americans. A bottle of Prevagen can run as high as $69.
Prevagen’s ads say its key ingredient, the protein apoaequorin, was originally discovered in a rare jelly fish. In truth, the company makes the ingredient in a lab to save the cost of harvesting from jellyfish.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says a supplement must be a food or all-natural, not made in a lab. Otherwise it is an unapproved drug.
The Federal Trade Commission, in its complaint, believes there is no scientific truth that Prevagen will improve memory. It points to the company’s own clinical study that “failed to show a statistically significant improvement” in the treatment group when compared to a placebo group.
Quincy says the allegations are unfounded and points to its double-blind placebo-controlled study on brain performance.
The General Accounting Office is exploring whether brain supplement marketing claims are true.
Where does all this leave the consumer?
It may come down to who do you trust? Many consumers see supplements as a low-cost alternatives to drugs with fewer side effects and believe the FDA may be doing the bidding of the pharmaceutical industry which would love to market its own version of Prevagen for profit.
If vulnerable Americans were really being served, our regulators might require further proof of the claims made by the $37 billion a year dietary supplement business, rather than file actions to shut them down.
Consumers should be suspicious of exaggerated or unrealistic claims whether made by the supplement industry or the pharmaceutical giants.
We’ve seen far too many examples of the FDA as a toothless tiger that has not done its due diligence to make sure that products on the shelf, whether a drug or supplement, are safe and effective.