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Experts Stress Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy, Include Exercise and Diet

With June being designed as Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) releases a report concluding that dietary supplements do not improve brain health or prevent cognitive decline, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The report calls on consumers to not take supplements for this purpose. GCBH is an independent organization, created by AARP in partnership with Age UK, to provide reliable consumer information as to how they can maintain and improve their brain health.

A healthy diet as the most important way to get the needed nutrients to benefit your brain. Photo Credit: AARP

Brain health supplements generated $3 billion in sales in 2016, and new research conducted by AARP found that 26 percent of adults age 50 and older in the U.S. take one or more supplements to improve or maintain their brain health.

GCBH’s 31-page report, released June 11, notes that the GCBH reviewed the evidence on a variety of supplements and concluded that it could not endorse any ingredient, product or formulation specifically designed for brain health. Instead, the report’s authors advocated for a healthy diet as the most important way for people to get the needed nutrients to benefit their brains.

Popping Pills Won’t Prevent Dementia

“It’s tempting to think you can pop a pill and prevent dementia—but the science says that doesn’t work,” said Sarah Lenz Lock, AARP Senior vice president for Policy and Executive Director of the GCBH, in a statement announcing the release of the report. “The good news is, we know what will help to keep your brain healthy: exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, challenging your thinking skills, and connecting with others. Rather than buying a dietary supplement, spend your money on new walking shoes or a salmon dinner,” says Lock.

According to the GCBH report, many dietary supplements marketed to consumers as improving brain health have claims like “clinically shown to help with mild memory problems associated with aging” and “scientifically proven nutrients for a healthier brain.” While all medications sold in the U.S. are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, dietary supplements are not considered medications—they can be sold without premarket review of their safety, efficacy or truthfulness of their claims, notes the report.

The GCBH report stresses the importance of discussing with your health provider the vitamins and supplements you are taking, to determine their possible risks, benefits and interactions. Your health provider may recommend a supplement if you are nutrient-deficient or are at risk of becoming so due to diet, lifestyle or other health issues.

Before taking a supplement, ask yourself whether you are already getting enough nutrients through your regular diet or a multivitamin. Are any claims about its benefits supported by high quality research?

More is not always better, says the GCBH, noting that some vitamins, minerals and other ingredients can be toxic at high levels. The old adage says, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”  Always beware if a dietary supplement claims to improve brain health or memory, make you smarter or cure a disease. It’s a red flag.

The GCBH includes summaries of the current scientific research on vitamins and selected supplements that are marketed for brain health.

The full report and a new infographic are available at: www.GlobalCouncilonBrainHealth.org.

To learn more about the actions consumers can take to help maintain and improve their brain health, visit www.stayingsharp.org.

 

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