There have long been debates among established medical authorities and supplement manufacturers, especially when it comes to treating cognitive decline. Are the myriad of supplements currently on the market a genie in a bottle? Or is it better to focus on leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle?
Most Popular “Cognitive Decline” Supplements
Some of the most popular brain boosters include coenzyme Q10, coconut oil Ginkgo biloba, and coral calcium. The Alzheimer’s Association reported in The New York Times that, with the exception of omega-3 fatty acids, all of the above were vigorously tested and found to have no benefits. “No known dietary supplement prevents cognitive decline or dementia,” Dr. Joanna Hellmuth reported in JAMA in January. “Yet, supplements advertised as such are widely available and appear to gain legitimacy when sold by major U.S. retailers.”
The seduction of popping a few pills to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is very appealing. After all, that’s a whole lot easier than altering your diet, starting an exercise regimen, or being disciplined enough to get eight hours of shut eye a night. And supplements manufacturers are very aware of this.
Tricky Terminology in Health Claims
There’s a lot of gray area around the supplement industry. Supplement manufacturers are not required to test their products for effectiveness or safety and instead rely on user testimonies that can’t be verified. Dr. Hellmuth, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, reported in an article for Business Wire, “Lots of patients and families see bold claims in newspaper ads, on the internet and on late-night TV that various supplements can improve memory.”
These claims seem to be working, as reported in Business Wire, the global brain health supplements market generated $3.194 billion in 2016, and is anticipated to reach almost $6 billion by 2023.
These statements are legal, under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, as long as the product does not claim to prevent, treat or cure dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Under these conditions, the terminology “memory support” is permitted and it is that wording that lures people in, who are seeking an easy fix to warding off dementia. And according to an article in The New York Times, sometimes companies sneak illegal claims into their marketing and while eventually caught, these deceptive claims make their way to public long before a slap on the wrist.
Case in point, this past February, the FDA issued 12 warning letters to companies the agency reported were illegally marketing 58 dietary supplements that claim to prevent, treat or cure Alzheimer’s disease or other serious conditions. One letter was sent to Earth Turns LLC – the agency cited the company’s Green Tea Extract product advertised to “help to reduce the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease” by blocking the proteins that cause Alzheimer’s-type plaques to form in the brain. Such a statement is blatantly false and a gross overrepresentation of the product’s capabilities.
Follow the Mediterranean Diet
Rather than heading to the health food store and spending your money on supplements, instead focus on buying healthy fruits and vegetables. The foods that also support heart health can be good for your brain, too.
The popular Mediterranean diet, consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, low-fat dairy and olive oil, has been shown to have a positive impact on cognitive health. The NCBI published a story focusing on this type of diet with findings that seniors who adopted such a diet, while limiting their salt intake, had a 35 percent lower risk for cognitive decline as they aged, and strict adherence to the diet cut the risk by more than 50 percent.
Avoid Toxic Brain Food
Sometimes, focusing on what not to eat is just as important as what you eat. Foods that have been shown to have a toxic effect on the brain include red and processed meats, cheese and butter, fried foods, pastries, sugars and refined carbohydrates like white rice and white bread. It’s no surprise, that limiting these foods will also reduce the risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, both of which can lead to cognitive decline or dementia.
Get Your Heart Pumping
Another key element to overall health, that’s no surprise, is the importance of incorporating cardio workouts into your regimen. The NCBI reported a Chinese study of 15,589 people who were 65 and older found that those that engaged in daily aerobic and mind-body exercises were less likely to develop dementia than those who did only stretching and toning exercises. Additionally, Neurology reported a Swedish study that followed 800 midlife women for 44 years and discovered that engaging in physical activity reduced the risk of dementia by 57 percent.
Catch your ZZZ’s
Your mom was right; sleep is so important. According to a definitive study in the Journal of Neuroscience, sleeping enables your brain to make new memories. Further giving legitimacy to “mommy brain,” a forgetful condition many new parents profess and why you just don’t feel as sharp after a short night’s sleep. It’s still recommended that adults try to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
As for me, I’m going to think twice about grabbing a bottle of Gingko and give myself a pass on chugging green tea. Following basic, common sense principles — which is what I’ve known I should be doing all along — seems to be where it’s at.