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Brain Health Supplements = Overrated

According to the AARP, more than a quarter ("26% according to the recent 2019 AARP Brain Health and Dietary Supplements Survey") of adults in the United States over the age of 50 take at least one supplement for brain-health reasons. In addition, brain-health supplements reportedly "generated $3 billion in sales globally in 2016 and are projected to reach $5.8 billion by 2023." Those are some astounding numbers! Although this not totally unexpected as many people are concerned about their brain health and they are willing to try just about anything that says it will improve cognition, decrease memory loss, improve concentration, etc.

The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) has concluded that for most people, the best way to get your nutrients for brain health is from a healthy diet. Currently, scientific evidence has shown that the use of supplements does not prevent, slow, reverse, or stop cognitive decline or dementia or other related neurological disease such as Alzheimer’s." Nonetheless, that message does not appear to have made it's way to the general population. Many people will see a supplement that claims to be “research proven,” or “laboratory tested,” or that it “maintains good brain health” and believe or feel that this will do the trick. This type of advertising can be psychologically appealing to those of us who want to improve cognition or want to stop memory loss.

Some people are spending $20 to $50 a month, which is a sizable chunk of money that could be put toward other expenses, including fresh fruit and vegetables that actually do make a difference. Yes, the vitamins in the supplements do work, however, most people don’t need them since there is overwhelming evidence showing that if you eat a normal diet you do not need to take supplementary vitamins. More vitamins is not always better. Your body can only digest a certain amount of vitamins and anything left over is not absorbed. Therefore, any water soluble vitamins are excreted through urine. This reminds us of the old adage of "Talk about pissing your money away."

Although the claims that supplements can improve cognition or stop memory loss sound amazing and wonderful, they do not appear to be fully accurate. Rather than taking handfuls of supplementary vitamins, it would be better to redirect your time and energy to preparing healthy meals. Some diets that have been shown to help with brain health are Mediterranean style diets, the DASH diet, or the MIND diet.

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