One of the most common fears my patients have expressed over the years is getting Alzheimer’s disease. I watched my own mother steadily deteriorate for 10 years until she no longer knew I was her son.
Many families have had to cope with this scenario or are actively dealing with a loved one with dementia. The vitamin and supplement industry has used these fears to make billions of dollars. The revenue from this industry now exceeds $30 billion a year. Allow me to review some of the biggest money-making products.
One of the most commonly used supplements for brain health or memory boosting is Ginkgo biloba. Millions of people use this in hopes it will improve brain function and ward off dementia. The problem is that Ginkgo biloba and most all of the products sold in the vitamin aisle for brain health don’t work. Ginkgo biloba is one of the few that has even been put through a peer-reviewed scientific trial. It was called the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory trial, and it basically proved it did not work.
If you watch cable television, you certainly have heard this: “Can a protein originally found in jellyfish improve your memory?” It goes on to say that clinical trials with the company’s product have been shown to improve short-term memory. But scientists who have reviewed what little data the company can produce say it is a false claim. The name of the protein is aequorin and it is found in crystal jellyfish. The company synthetically produces apoaequorin and puts it in capsule form to take orally. Almost all proteins are actually broken down into amino acids in the stomach and therefore they cannot get to the brain in original form.
Dr. David S. Seres, director of medical nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center, states: “It is biologically inconceivable that a protein by mouth would have any effect on memory.” In fact, the Federal Trade Commission, the state of New York and consumer groups are actively suing the makers of this product. This unfortunately has not reduced the unceasing commercials about this product that I see every time I turn on the TV. The most recent commercial states it is the No. 1 pharmacist-recommended memory support brand. This is likely true, but it doesn’t mean the product works to improve memory or reduce the onset of dementia.
Other supplements that have never been proven to support memory include omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), B-vitamins like B6, B12, and folate, and multiple vitamins.
So how do we reduce our chances of getting Alzheimer’s or other kinds of dementia? If someone is beginning to show signs of memory loss, there are things that need to be ruled out first. These include depression, advanced liver disease, regular use of sleeping aids and alcohol enthusiasm. Then there are the proactive things we can do. This includes exercise. Multiple scientifically controlled studies have proven that not only can exercise reduce the chances of new onset dementia, but if you get Alzheimer’s disease, exercise can slow its progression. Exercise is medicine without taking a pill.
Good blood pressure control and reducing your cholesterol can reduce your risk of dementia as well. We must not forget about the foods we consume. Some of the diets that have proven to reduce the chances of getting dementia include the Mediterranean diet, which improves heart health; the Dash diet, which is designed to lower blood pressure; and the MIND diet, which is essentially a combination of the two. A quick summary of the foods in these dietary plans include green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans and fish. Cooking with olive oil and drinking a glass of wine every other day also is recommended.
On the MIND diet, participants in one study reduced their risk of memory loss as well as the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by about 50%. I have always been intrigued by the fact that nutrients in foods prevent certain disease processes, yet put those same nutrients in a pill and they no longer work. Psalm 139:14 says, “I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.” The human body was made so complex by our Creator there are times we are just not going to have the answers.
If you want to keep your mind sharp and ward off dementia, then challenge your brain. Learn a new language, play board games or enjoy card games like bridge or euchre. Finally, stay social. Those who continue to have a strong social calendar have a better chance at keeping their minds strong and productive as they get older.
What are you going to do with all the money you just saved by not taking those supplements? My suggestion is to give it to your church or favorite charity that attends to the poor.
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