Supplements & functional ingredients Expert recommendations

For individuals: 1. Rather than turning to supplements to boost brain health, choose foods known to support a healthy brain.

2. Consult your healthcare provider if you are considering taking a supplement, and ask about the risks, benefits and medication interactions.

3. Carefully check ingredients and information on supplement labels. Be aware that product labels may not reflect the actual ingredients or their amounts in the supplements.

4. Verify the quality of evidence about the product’s effectiveness, purity and quality. 5. If you are experiencing significant memory loss, consult your healthcare provider, who may wish to check your folate and B12 levels. Individuals should follow their healthcare provider’s advice to make sure the supplements taken are appropriate to address their specific deficiency or problem. Make sure you do not take too much of any of the B vitamins and check to see if the foods you eat are already fortified with them.

6. Although caffeine may provide some short-term benefits in mental alertness and focus, caffeine supplements in the form of energy drinks and pills may carry health risks and are not recommended.

Source: GCBH $643m GCBH 42

In the US, sales of dietary supplements nearly doubled in value to this figure, from 2006 to 2015.

be defined or regulated. For example, regulators consider melatonin to be a dietary supplement in the US, a natural health product in Canada, but a prescription medicine in Australia. Regulations and government oversight of dietary supplements differ significantly from country to country. Quality can vary from product to product, and concerns have been raised about the content, identity, purity, potency and potential toxicity of certain supplements. The lack of accepted testing methods and standards impacts the ability of regulators worldwide to identify and analyse the ingredients. The GCBH believes that more high-quality clinical studies of the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements on brain health outcomes in humans are needed. It is essential that such studies include quality assurance to ensure the supplements being used contain the ingredients and amounts the manufacturers claim, and nothing else. A significant lack of understanding exists about how the level of regulatory scrutiny for dietary supplements differs from prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications. For example, in the United States, a prescription drug must demonstrate safety and efficacy to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to market approval. Before a prescription drug or over-the-counter drug can be sold, it has to demonstrate clear evidence of a positive effect, it must be thoroughly tested for safety and all side effects found must be reported to the FDA. However, the same level of government review and approval are not required for dietary supplements before they are put on the market. People often think that supplements are subject to the same government regulations as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. AARP’s 2019 survey reveals that almost half of older adults (49%) in the US mistakenly believe the FDA determines that

dietary supplements, including vitamins, are both safe and effective before they are sold, while 36% believe that herbs and enzymes receive the same scrutiny. In fact, the FDA’s mandatory pre-market evaluation of the safety, effectiveness, and health and medical claims of drugs does not apply to dietary supplements. It is against the law for supplement manufacturers to make claims that they treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) require that such claims be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence before they are made. However, the substantiation requirement is not generally reviewed by the regulatory agencies. These agencies can only take enforcement action against unsubstantiated or false claims once the product is already on the market. This situation may lead many people to have a false sense of security when it comes to taking dietary supplements that they find on store shelves or online.

Mind or matter

There is no convincing evidence to recommend dietary supplements for brain health in healthy older adults. The consensus statements and recommendations above are based on recent science. Supplements have not been demonstrated to delay the onset of dementia, nor can they prevent, treat or reverse Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological diseases that cause dementia. For most people, the best way to get nutrients for brain health is from a healthy diet. Unless a healthcare provider has identified a specific nutrient deficiency, there is not sufficient data to justify taking any dietary supplement for brain health. The GCBH does not endorse any ingredient, product or supplement formulation specifically sold for brain health. Because no government agency determines dietary supplements are safe or effective before they are sold, consumers should approach supplements claiming to improve or boost brain function with scepticism. Because dietary supplements can be sold without a government agency first determining that they are safe or and effective before they are sold, consumers should also be aware that in addition to being a waste of money, some supplements could physically harm them. Despite claims to the contrary, brain health supplements have not been established to maintain thinking skills or to improve brain function. However, there are many other lifestyle habits such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, staying mentally active and being socially engaged that are recommended by the council. ●

Ingredients Insight /

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