From supplements to brain-training apps, a whole industry has sprung up around products that claim to optimise your brain health and even cut your risk of dementia.
But new Which? research shows that claims made by some of these products are not backed up by robust scientific evidence.
Dementia tests and supplements
We asked a panel of experts, including a dietitian, a GP and a professor of public health medicine, to investigate the science behind a selection of dementia tests and supplements sold on the high street and online.
Our experts found no convincing evidence linking supplement ingredients such as Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B and D, and fish oil to preventing or reducing the risk of dementia.
You can read our full investigation ‘Can you cut your risk of dementia?’ in the July issue of Which?. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can try Which? for £1 to receive the magazine and full access to members-only sections of Which.co.uk.
Five products to avoid
Below we reveal our experts’ verdicts on some of the products we assessed, and why they believe the science just doesn’t stack up.
1. Bioglan Calamari Gold – £24.99 for 30 capsules
Claim: Contains DHA, which helps support brain function.
Verdict: The packaging says these supplements contain ‘more omega 3 DHA (400mg) per capsule than standard capsules’ with a tiny asterisk showing how this compares to the company’s other products. However, there are cheaper fish oil supplements containing higher levels of DHA available if you want them, and just 250mg of DHA per day would be enough for meeting claims of maintaining normal brain function anyway.
Bioglan (Pharmacare Europe) says: ‘Calamari oil is richer in omega 3 DHA than typical oils, meaning fewer capsules for the daily DHA to maintain normal brain function. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) details health benefits from our higher DHA levels (400mg), such as maintaining normal blood pressure and triglyceride levels.’
2. Boots Sharp Mind – £7.19 for 30 tablets
Claims: Expertly formulated to maintain brain function, mental performance and memory.
Verdict: These tablets contain a wide range of nutrients and amino acids that are superfluous to the usual UK diet. Our experts were unconvinced of the ingredient Ginkgo’s effectiveness on memory, or why these tablets contained such high proportions of some vitamins (such as B vitamins).
Boots told us this is a safe supplement designed to support a normal healthy lifestyle and not to treat or prevent a diagnosed health condition.
3. BrainSmart Memory – £24.89 for 60 capsules
Claims: A significant step forward to improved memory and ultimately in the prevention of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Ingredients include Gingko Biloba, B vitamins (including folic acid) and N-Acetylcysteine.
Verdict: Some of BrainSmart’s health claims do not appear to be substantiated by the EFSA and we consider them potentially misleading. Despite BrainSmart amending its website and bottle labelling after we contacted the company, we will be pursuing this with the Advertising Standards Authority.
BrainSmart says it is not UK-based and adds: ‘We think EFSA is behind the curve. Our product doesn’t claim to prevent, cure or treat disease, and scientific data clearly supports its efficacy. We have many satisfied customers and comply with all applicable rules and regulations.’
4. Efamol Brain Active Memory – £10.99 for 30 capsules
Claims: Contributes to normal brain function; Vitamin B12 and Folic acid…protect against vascular and brain cell damage including stroke which can cause dementia.
Verdict: Some of the advertised health claims do not appear to have been independently substantiated by the EFSA and are potentially misleading. The brain does need B6 and B12 for normal brain function, and you should get these from your diet anyway.
Efamol told us it didn’t intend to mislead consumers, takes the matters we’ve raised seriously and apologises unreservedly. It has taken down its website temporarily while undertaking a rigorous review.
5. Dementia Test app – free for iPhone/iPad/ iPod Touch
Claims: A complex and precise risk calculator [brief questionnaire] for detecting dementia in an individual.
Verdict: Our experts say that this app fails to ask key questions – such as your age and sex – and therefore don’t recommend it.
The company said: ‘Our dementia risk calculator doesn’t ask for the sex or age as it isn’t important for this type of test. This isn’t a diagnostic tool, but can warn people to visit their GP or spot changes over time.’
Unnecessary Alzheimer’s worry
It’s unacceptable that some companies are preying on people’s fears, making claims they simply can’t back up.
Which? Director of Policy and Campaigns
Which? Director of Policy and Campaigns Alex Neill said: ‘For people worried about dementia our advice is you don’t need to spend time and money on expensive supplements or products, like online tests or apps.
‘There are many alternative sources of free, independent information and advice that can help you to understand your options and next steps.’
Reducing your dementia risk
Small changes to your lifestyle, starting as early as in your 40s, may make a difference to your dementia risk. These include:
? Eating a healthy, balanced diet to lower the risk of cognitive decline
? Regular mental, social and physical activity, such as cycling or walking more briskly
? Quitting smoking and avoiding drinking high levels of alcohol
? Keep your brain in shape through everyday activities – such as reading, drawing and playing chess.
Can you trust products that claim to prevent dementia? Join the Which? Conversation.
Our Elderly Care website provides information for people worried that a relative or friend may be developing dementia. For trusted advice, visit the Which? Elderly Care website.