Brain Supplements: What Does and Doesn’t Work

Over a quarter of adults over the age of 50 take supplements to try and keep their minds healthy. Often supplements make claims such as, “protect your memory”, “improves memory”, “supports healthy brain function”, “clearer thinking”, or “sharpens focus”. Are these claims accurate though? The FDA doesn’t require supplement makers to prove them effective, so it’s often unclear if their claims are accurate. According to Harvard Health Publishing, these are the rules and restrictions required by the FDA for supplement makers:

Supplement makers can make general claims about connections between their supplement and the body’s “structure and function.” For example, a vitamin maker touting calcium in a product can say it’s good for bone health –– although calcium supplements may offer little or nothing for most people with healthy bones, diets rich in calcium, and no medical condition requiring extra calcium.

Supplement makers cannot claim their product treats or prevents a particular disease. That disclaimer, which may seem to contradict marketing promises, must appear on every package. So, commercials suggesting that a supplement can reverse or slow Alzheimer’s disease, or any dementia, are perilously close to running afoul of the rules on marketing supplements.

So with all that in mind, here are what the experts do and don’t know about certain supplements.

Vitamin B

The best way to get in your B vitamins is to stick with food sources such as leafy greens. Vitamin B, including B6, B12, and B9 (also known as folic acid) all play an important role in brain health. However, unless you’re low on them or pregnant, taking a supplement is unlikely to help. Folic Acid (B9) is very important in preventing birth defects and should be taken during pregnancy, as per a doctor’s recommendation. Vitamin B is also sometimes recommended for people at high risk for Alzheimer’s. So, unless your doctor says otherwise, try to get this vitamin through your diet instead of a supplement. 

Vitamin B supplement

Caffeine

Caffeine is known to be good for your brain in small doses. Caffeine powder and pills aren’t recommended, because there are risks for overdosing. However, drinks such as coffee and tea can be used, as long as it’s not making you jittery or worsening your sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that promotes energy by blocking brain receptors for a chemical called adenosine and helps perk you up. Stick to getting your caffeine from coffee or tea, instead of taking a supplement for it. 

Cup of Coffee

L-theanine

Most studies on L-theanine have been small. However, it seems there is potential in L-theanine on improving mental performance, especially when combined with caffeine. Until further research, skip the supplements and drink green tea. Green tea naturally contains both caffeine and L-theanine, as well as antioxidants that can help your mental and physical well-being in other ways. 

Two Cups Of Green Tea

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may combat damage to brain cells. Yet, there have been no significant studies on Vitamin E supplements. Some experts believe E Vitamin may slow the worsening of Alzheimer’s in people who already have it. However, the best way to get your Vitamin E is to eat foods that contain it, such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oil. 

Multiple Piles Of Various Nuts

Curcumin

Curcumin is found in turmeric, an ingredient used in curry powder. While curcumin has been recognized for its antioxidant powers, there isn’t enough research to know the full benefits of taking a curcumin supplement. One study found that people who took curcumin scored better on memory tests, but this study only had 40 people. So there is not enough evidence yet to conclude if taking a supplement is beneficial.

CDP-choline

CDP-choline is sold as a supplement in the USA, but in some areas, like Europe, it is sold as a prescription drug. This supplement has had studies showing decent evidence that it benefits memory in elderly people who already have memory issues. There is not enough evidence to show if taking this supplement as a preventative will work. If you are thinking about taking this supplement, talk to your doctor first. 

Supplement Combinations

Often, memory supplements aren’t sold individually. They are usually combined with multiple ingredients. While some ingredients may work well together combined supplements are hard to study and there could be risks taking them. The risk of side effects raises with the number of combinations you take. Mixing supplements with prescription drugs can increase risk as well. Before you combine any drugs and supplements, talk to your doctor or pharmacists to make sure they are safe to take together.

Focus on Food

Food is the best way to keep your mind sharp and healthy. While some supplements may be helpful, eating a balanced diet will support your brain health as you age and keep your mind sharp. Stay active, get enough sleep, take care of your health, stay social, and challenge your mind to help your mental health as well. Not only is it good for your mental health, but the rest of your body as well. 

The bottom line is you should take supplement claims with a grain of salt. There is a reason every dietary supplement carries a disclaimer that it is not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. To keep up on your brain’s health, keep a healthy diet, and stay up on your body’s health. If you are thinking of taking any supplements, talk to your doctor first to see what is the best fit for you. At Medical Imaging Express, we believe in the health of people. Every patient deserves the very best, and we strive to create a stress-free environment. Schedule an appointment online today, or contact us for more information.