Attention all consumers seeking to protect brain health: You can save hundreds of dollars a year and enhance the health of your brain and body by ignoring the myriad unproven claims for anti-dementia supplements and instead focusing on a lifestyle long linked to better mental and physical well-being.
How many of these purported brain boosters have you already tried – Ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, huperzine A, caprylic acid and coconut oil, coral calcium, among others? The Alzheimer’s Association says that, with the possible exception of omega-3 fatty acids, all that were properly tested thus far have been found wanting.
You’d only be fooling yourself and wasting precious dollars that could be better spent on nutritious foods and a good pair of walking shoes
I admit it’s very appealing to think you can maintain your cognitive powers by swallowing a few pills a day instead of adopting a brain-healthy diet, getting regular exercise and adequate sleep, among other health-preserving measures like not smoking. But you’d only be fooling yourself and wasting precious dollars that could be better spent on nutritious foods and a good pair of walking shoes.
“No known dietary supplement prevents cognitive decline or dementia,” Dr. Joanna Hellmuth stated emphatically in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) in January. “Yet, supplements advertised as such are widely available and appear to gain legitimacy when sold by major U.S. retailers,” she added
Hellmuth, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, Memory and Aging Center, reminds consumers that supplement manufacturers do not have to test their products for effectiveness or safety. Lacking sound scientific backing, most are promoted by testimonials that appeal to people worried about developing dementia.
Citing a US$3.2 billion (S$4.33 billion) industry that promotes brain health benefits from dietary supplements, Hellmuth said in an interview: “It’s a confusing landscape. 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.”
Such a memory statement is legal under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, as long as the product is not claimed to prevent, treat or cure dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But too often, people seeking an easy route to cognitive health assume incorrectly that anything said to support memory would ward off dementia.
Some companies try to sneak illegal claims past government watchdogs. Eventually they’re likely to get caught, but not always before unsuspecting consumers waste hard-earned dollars on useless, possibly hazardous and often costly supplements.
In February, the Food and Drug Administration issued 12 warning letters and five advisory letters to companies the agency said were illegally marketing 58 dietary supplements that claim to prevent, treat or cure Alzheimer’s disease or other serious conditions. In one such letter, 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.
If you’re truly in need of a brain boost, experts recommend caffeine as a safer and more effective, albeit temporary, bet.
Of course, supplements are only one of several arms of the memory-enhancing industry. There are also myriad videos, games, puzzles, programs and what-have-you currently being marketed. None of these are a problem if people have fun doing them as long as they don’t ignore measures far more likely to reduce the risk or delay the onset of dementia.
Some of these products may even be helpful up to a point. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix reported in JAMA Neurology two years ago that older people who engage in mentally stimulating activities like games, crafts and computer use have a lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to dementia.
The researchers, led by Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatrist and behavioral neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, followed nearly 2,000 cognitively normal people 70 years old or older, for an average of four years. After adjusting the results for sex, age and education level, they found that computer use decreased the participants’ risk of cognitive impairment by 30 per cent, engaging in crafts decreased it by 28 per cent and playing games decreased it by 22 per cent.
If players participate with other people; social engagement has repeatedly been shown to benefit health and longevity
Geda said that those who performed such activities at least once or twice a week experienced less cognitive decline than those who did the same activities at most only three times a month.
Also helpful is if players participate with other people; social engagement has repeatedly been shown to benefit health and longevity.
For the most part, playing so-called brain-training games can make you better at the games themselves, but the benefits don’t necessarily translate into improved performance in other activities. Three years ago, the Federal Trade Commission challenged Lumosity’s claim that its games can sharpen memory or brain power in real-world settings. Citing deceptive advertising, the agency said the company offered prizes to consumers who attested to the games’ effectiveness.
What really works to support brain health as you age? Start with the very same foods that can help to keep your heart healthy: A Mediterranean-style diet replete with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, low-fat dairy and olive oil. In a major study called MIND, seniors who adopted such a diet and limited their salt intake had a 35 per cent lower risk for cognitive decline as they aged, and strict adherence to the diet cut the risk by more than 50 per cent.
... those who consumed at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits a day were significantly less likely to develop dementia over the next six years
At the same time, avoid or strictly limit foods that can have toxic effects on the brain, like red and especially processed meats, cheese and butter, fried foods, pastries, sugars and refined carbohydrates like white rice and white bread, none of which are good for the heart either.
This diet would also reduce the risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, both of which can foster cognitive decline or dementia.
In Chinese study of 17,700 older adults free of dementia at the start of the study, those who consumed at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits a day were significantly less likely to develop dementia over the next six years.
An earlier Chinese study of 15,589 people 65 and older found that those who participated in daily aerobic and mind-body exercises were significantly less likely to develop dementia than those who did only stretching and toning exercises. And a new Swedish study that followed 800 midlife women for 44 years found that engaging in physical activity reduced the risk of dementia by 57 per cent.
Finally, which gives the brain a chance to form new memories. Researchers suggest striving for seven to eight hours of shut-eye a night.
By Jane E. Brody © The New York Times