If A Supplement Claims To Boost Your Brain, It Might Just Be Fake

Hasan Variawa |

If they claim to prevent or treat disorders like Alzheimer’s, they could be breaking the law
By Christa Sgobba

Supplements are a booming business, and pills that promise to boost your brain are no exception: The market for memory-improving supplements rakes in millions in sales. But what are you really getting when you pop that pill? It might not be what it promises on the bottle. In fact, a review of the memory supplements out there by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that there are some serious issues with the claims they’re making.

The GAO identified 490 memory supplement products over five media channels over a two-month period—91 of which contained sufficient information to for the experts to analyse their claims and marketing practices. Of these products, 41 percent included claims that the product had been clinically proven or studied.

What’s more, they ID’ed 28 ad examples for 34 products that made potentially disease-related claims. These included benefits like protecting against, reducing the risk, or alleviating the symptoms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease. After the FDA reviewed them, they determined that 27 appeared to be claims to treat, cure or prevent a disease, which are generally prohibited in the labelling of dietary supplements. Officials reported that they had sent two advisory letters to two of the firms, and would continue monitoring all of the examples the review uncovered.

Supplements aren’t regulated in the same way drugs or medications are. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have the authority to require supplements to be approved for safety and effectiveness before they hit the market. (What they can do, though, is regulate the labelling of supplements, and the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to enforce prohibitions against deceptive advertising.)

So while medications that claim to prevent or treat a condition are required to have the evidence to back it, supplements don’t. That means claims like “beneficial for those in initial and mid-stage of Alzheimer’s” or “improves cognition and behavioural symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients”—both real examples found in the GAO’s review—might not have any science behind them at all.

Bottom line is, you need to be a savvy supplement shopper, the FDA says. Be wary of claims that seem too good to be true, especially if they claim to work better than a prescription drug, the agency says. And be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any supplement.

Originally published on menshealth.com

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