New Which? analysis found claims made by some supplements, to promote brain health or prevent dementia, are not backed up by scientific evidence.
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 supplements sold on the high-street and online. These included Bioglan Calamari Gold capsules, Efamol Brain Active Memory capsules, Boots Sharp Mind tablets, and BrainSmart Memory capsules. They found no robust evidence linking ingredients such as Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B and D, and fish oil to preventing or reducing the risk of dementia.
In fact, since Which? highlighted these findings, Efamol has taken down its website temporarily to undertake a rigorous review of its marketing and product claims.
One of the supplements claimed the vitamins, minerals and herbal ingredients used could protect against vascular and brain cell damage including strokes, which can cause dementia, whilst others stated they could maintain brain function, mental performance and memory. In two cases we believe these claims are not substantiated by the European Food Safety Authority, and are potentially misleading.
Which? also scrutinised the benefits of some dementia tests, including from free apps to an online test costing £1,275. Our experts warn against using such screening tests to try and predict the likelihood of dementia. These tests can lead to many people being unduly worried about the chances of them developing dementia by creating ‘false positives’. Research shows that many people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment don’t go on to develop dementia at all.
The ‘Dementia Test’ app failed to ask basic questions such as a person’s age and sex, which are the strongest risk factors for dementia and the ‘Food for the Brain’ app recommended our experts have additional tests and take Vitamin B, despite them performing above or at the norm for their age.
Alex Neill, Which? Director of Policy and Campaigns, said:
“People with dementia, or those with a friend or family member with the condition, will often be scared and worried about their diagnosis. It’s unacceptable that these companies are preying on people’s fears, making claims they simply can’t stack up.
“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.”
Which?’s advice is that small changes to your lifestyle, starting as early as in your 40s, may make a difference to your dementia risk. This includes:
● Eating a healthy, balanced diet to lower the risk of cognitive decline
● Regular physical, mental and social 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.
Which? Elderly Care provides information for people worried that a relative or friend may be developing dementia. For trusted advice, visit the Which? Elderly Care website: which.co.uk/dementia.
– ENDS –
Notes to Editor:
1. Which? Elderly Care is a free website offering practical information and advice about arranging care in the UK. The information on the site is aimed at relatives and friends of people in need of care advice but it can also be used by people arranging care for themselves. As well as a new carers section, the site focuses on financing care, housing options and older people’s needs, such as dealing with dementia and memory problems and accessing local authority and NHS care and support.
2. NHS England research shows that more than 750,000 people in the UK suffer from some form of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s.
3. Further research has also found that the top dementia risk factors are:
b. Mid-life hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure)
c. Mid-life obesity
d. Physical inactivity
g. Low educational attainment
4. Research shows that 21% of Alzheimer’s cases in the UK are associated with physical inactivity.
5. Which? Elderly Care recommends that anybody with existing memory concerns should visit their GP, ideally with someone to support them.
6. Which?’s panel of experts tested the following products:
a. Bioglan Calamari Gold, £24.99 for 30 1,000mg capsules
b. Efamol Brain Active Memory, £10.99 for 30 capsules
c. Boots Sharp Mind, £7.19
d. BrainSmart Memory capsules, £24.89 for 60 capsules
e. Dementia Test app, free for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch
f. Re:Cognition ‘My healthy Brain’ Wellbeing Assessment, £1,275
g. Food for the Brain cognitive function test (Plan B: Positive Action against Alzheimer’s), free test
7. When we told Bioglan (Pharmacare Europe) about our results, it said that Calamari Oil is richer in omega-3 DHA than typical oils, meaning fewer capsules for the daily DHA to maintain normal brain function. It told us that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) details health benefits from their higher DHA levels (400mg) such as maintaining normal blood pressure.
8. Efamol told us it didn’t intend to mislead consumers, takes the matters we’ve raised very seriously and apologises unreservedly. It has now taken down its website temporarily while undertaking a rigorous review of its marketing and the claims made for its products.
9. Boots told us that its product Boots Sharp Mind is a safe supplement designed to support a normal healthy lifestyle and not to treat or prevent a diagnosed health condition.
10. BrainSmart said that they believe EFSA is behind the curve, but they do not believe their US-based product falls under its jurisdiction and say that they do not market in the UK. They told us that their product doesn’t claim to prevent, cure or treat disease, and scientific data clearly supports its efficacy. They said they comply with all applicable rules and regulations.
11. The Dementia Test app’s developer said their risk calculator does not ask for the sex or age as it is not important for this type of test. They state that it isn’t a diagnostic tool, but it can warn people to visit their GP or spot changes over time.
12. Re:Cognition told us that patients worried about their memory or cognition are carefully triaged and the appropriate level of thorough assessment, investigations and treatment carried out under the guidance of our cognitive experts, with counselling regarding potential outcomes and implications.
13. Food for the Brain cognitive function test (Plan B: Positive Action against Alzheimer’s) said the test is an aid to assess cognitive abilities. They told us it is made clear it is not diagnostic. They said they consider there is strong evidence that taking B vitamins can slow brain shrinkage and cognitive decline in those with raised homocysteine, which can occur despite a healthy diet. They believe dementia screening should be recommended.
14. The UK National Screening Committee expressed concernabout screening healthy people for dementia, for reasons including the risk of false negatives and positives.