Humans are living longer. Life expectancy reached nearly 79 years old in 2014. This represents a 13% increase from 1959, when US citizens were expected to live 69.9 years. The health supplement industry is capitalizing on this trend by offering pills and products promising increased brain health.
But do brain food supplements really work?
The most significant issue pertaining to over-the-counter supplements is the lack of regulation. Unlike food and beverages, which require intense scrutiny by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), supplements are not subjected to such oversight.
As a result, claims about a supplement’s effectiveness are driven by the company’s research. While many supplement companies may utilize independent, third-party testing organizations, it is still up to the individual businesses to determine which research to rely on. This is not only for their products’ effectiveness but, more importantly, for their marketing efforts.
There is a strong consensus that our bodies and brains benefit from certain nutrients. Some of the most helpful ingredients include:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Found in shellfish, fatty fish, and certain plant sources, these fatty acids promote heart health; but scientists are unsure about their impact on the brain.
B Vitamins – Evidence has yet to be found supporting the link between B6, B9, and B12 and improved cognition.
Vitamin E – There is evidence vitamin E can slow the rate of brain functionality in dementia patients, but none to support the prevention of brain deterioration.
Ginko Biloba – Used for thousands of years, this herb is a popular health supplement. However, research has shown that it is no more effective than a placebo.
The challenge with health supplements is that we aren’t entirely sure how they work. According to Maxine Smith, RDN, LD, there are more than 25,000 bioactive substances in food. So we don’t know if vitamins are effective by themselves.
Unfortunately, for all the promises out there, there isn’t a single pill that will improve our brain’s functionality. Yet, there is a consensus on ways to minimize the impact of aging on our brain. Maintaining a lifestyle rich in physical exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep, and regular mentally challenging activities will help keep us feeling and thinking young.