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The real deal on brain health supplements

Many people take supplements to try to help their brain health and memory. However, the Global Council on Brain Health tells us why evidence does not back this up, and that you should probably save your money to buy a good set of walking shoes instead!

What is a supplement?

Dietary supplements or, more commonly, 'supplements,' are products taken by mouth that contain a 'dietary ingredient.'

Dietary ingredients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, botanicals (including herbs) and enzymes, as well as other substances alone or in combination that can be used to supplement one's diet. Supplements come in many forms, including pills, capsules, tablets, powders, food bars and liquids.

According to various surveys, quite a few people take supplements to try to help with their brain health, memory and other thinking skills, and even to try to stave off or help with dementia.

What is the evidence about what works?

That's the problem: there is currently no good research evidence which consistently shows that any supplement on the market can help with your brain health, memory, or dementia. The GCBH consulted experts and read a lot of research to find this out.

Why not take supplements that might help, just to be on the safe side?

That's another problem: there's no guarantee that they are safe. Quality concerns have been raised about the content, identity, purity, potency, and toxicity of various supplements. However, there is no regulatory body in the UK or anywhere in the world that evaluates the safety or effectiveness of supplements before they are sold; products are only pulled off the market or banned after people have been negatively affected.

Even if a product is of good quality, there are still risks that they could be toxic if too much is taken, or that they could interact with medications you are taking.

Is there anyone who should take any supplements for brain health?

There is evidence that people with low levels of vitamin B12 can benefit from supplements of this, but you should get a diagnosis from your GP who will run a blood test and prescribe what is needed. There are some other health conditions that can put people at risk of being deficient of vitamins or minerals; again, a GP should be consulted to diagnose and treat this.

What can I do to make sure I'm getting the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals to keep my brain healthy?

Follow a good, healthy diet, as recommended by the NHS and others. Also go to your GP with any concerns about how health conditions or medications could be affecting you, and testing your blood levels if necessary.

Advice on eating a healthy diet

Understanding supplements and brain health

The information on this page has been adapted from the Global Council on Brain Health's report, 'The Real Deal on Brain Health Supplements: GCBH Recommendations on Vitamins, Minerals and Other Dietary Supplement', published in 2019.

Based on the review of the evidence, the report goes into detail about the research and issues about supplements.

The report lists the members of the Council and the participants in the Council's expert panel that reviewed the evidence and produced this report.

Read the GCBH's report

Download the full report here.

About the Global Council on Brain Health

The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) was established in 2015 by AARP in the US, with support from Age UK. AARP is the leading US not-for-profit organisation for people aged 50+. The GCBH is an independent collaborative of scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts from around the world working in areas of brain health related to human cognitive function.

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Last updated: May 27 2020

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