Millions of Americans ages 50+ take vitamin supplements each year, often under the assumption that they offer brain-boosting benefits.  But according to a new report, when it comes to a healthy brain, you’re better off simply eating a healthy diet.

AARP assembled the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), an international collaboration of scientists, doctors, scholars, and policy experts, to review the brain-health benefits of dietary supplements in people over 50. The report released by the GCBH makes a strong case for putting less money into buying supplements and investing in fresh food and a balanced diet instead.

According to AARP, 26% of Americans age 50 and older take at least one supplement for brain-health reasons.

According to AARP, 26% of Americans age 50 and older take at least one supplement for brain-health reasons. The supplement industry is huge: brain-health supplements generated $3 billion in global sales in 2016, and are projected to reach $5.8 billion by 2023.

That, in AARP’s own words, “is a massive waste of money.” 

Despite the widespread use of brain-health supplements, there is scant scientific evidence that supports such use. And the public at large tends to overlook or misunderstand the regulatory guidelines — or lack thereof.

Dietary supplements, in fact, are not subject to the same Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluation process as prescription and over-the-counter drugs. That will be a surprise to 49% of older adults, according to AARP, who believe supplements are FDA-approved.

And while both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) require that any claim of health benefits from a supplement must be substantiated by reliable scientific evidence, in reality neither regulatory agency can take action against a product until it’s already on the market.

So just because a supplement boasts it boosts memory, prevents Alzheimer’s, or increases cognitive brain function does not mean it’s scientifically proven or FDA-approved.

The GCBH report is very clear in its assessment: There is insufficient evidence to show any link between dietary supplements and brain health in people with normal nutrient levels. And any dietary supplements taken for a specific dietary deficiency should be done so only when instructed by a health care provider.

The report’s simple message: “For most people, the best way to get your nutrients for brain health is from a healthy diet.”

So eat a salad, not a multivitamin. And if you have any specific concerns, ask your doctor.

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