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Health Tips Supplements boasting memory-boosting benefits might just be bogus

Supplements aren’t regulated in the same way drugs or medications are.

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memory supplements play

memory supplements

(Photograph by Getty Images)

Supplements are a booming business, and pills that promise to boost your brain are no exception: The market for memory-improving supplements has nearly doubled from 2006 to 2015, now raking in an estimated $643 million in sales.

But what are you really getting when you pop that pill? It might not be what it promises on the bottle.

In fact, a review of the memory supplements out there by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that there are some serious issues with the claims they’re making.

The GAO identified 490 memory supplement products over five media channels over a two-month period—91 of which contained sufficient information to for the experts to analyze their claims and marketing practices.

Of these products, 41 percent included claims that the product had been clinically proven or studied.

What’s more, they ID’ed 28 ad examples for 34 products that made potentially disease-related claims.

These included benefits like protecting against, reducing the risk, or alleviating the symptoms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease.

After the FDA reviewed them, they determined that 27 appeared to be claims to treat, cure or prevent a disease, which are generally prohibited in the labeling of dietary supplements.

Officials reported that they had sent two advisory letters to two of the firms, and would continue monitoring all of the examples the review uncovered.

Supplements aren’t regulated in the same way drugs or medications are.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have the authority to require supplements to be approved for safety and effectiveness before they hit the market. (What they can do, though, is regulate the labeling of supplements, and the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to enforce prohibitions against deceptive advertising.)

So while medications that claim to prevent or treat a condition are required to have the evidence to back it, supplements don’t.

That means claims like “beneficial for those in initial and mid-stage of Alzheimer’s” or “improves cognition and behavioral symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients”—both real examples found in the GAO’s review—might not have any science behind them at all.

Bottom line is, you need to be a savvy supplement shopper, the FDA says.

Be wary of claims that seem too good to be true, especially if they claim to work better than a prescription drug, the agency says.

And be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any supplement.

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