The Memory Pill: Magic or Myth?
The television ads show these seniors, in all of their silver-haired glory, running five miles a day, walking the beach or giving motivational speeches. These folks brag about their strong memories and alert minds. They are leading their best lives, they say, because they are taking Prevagen.
Memory boosting over-the-counter supplements like Prevagen, and its main competitor Neueriva, are big business in the U.S. This is fueled by seniors who spend big bucks in the hopes that they can avoid forgetfulness, dementia and the other mental pitfalls that too often come with aging.
Prevagen was developed and marketed on the theory that its active ingredient, a protein from jellyfish called apoaequorin, enters the human body to supplement proteins that are lost during the natural aging process.
Terri Moncrieff, 69, of Royal Oak, began taking Prevagen a few months ago and said she is pleased with the results.
“I don’t have to struggle as much to remember a word or a name,” she said.
Karen Kelly, 74, of Northbrook, Illinois, said after watching the television ads, she began taking it and felt it improved her memory.
“I thought it helped,” she said. “Was that my imagination? I can’t say that it wasn’t.”
Kelly said she quit taking Prevagen because it was too expensive for her budget. Indeed, Prevagen, depending on the strength of the capsule, can cost from $40 to $90 a month.
As for the actual benefits of taking the drug, public interest groups including AARP, and the Federal Trade Commission, have each sued the maker, Quincy Bioscience, over their claims about Prevagen’s efficacy.
Dr. Dana R. Connor, a neuropsychologist at Henry Ford Health System, who sees senior patients, says she gets asked often about the effectiveness of memory supplements.
“Unfortunately, the short answer is there is really no support for Prevagen or any of the other brain health support supplements on the market,” she said. “The main protein in the Prevagen ads, the jellyfish protein, is thought to be entirely digested in the human stomach. It’s unlikely to get anywhere near the brain.”
She said she tells her patients who want to keep taking Prevagen that there are other steps that will help them more – and that the most important tools to maintaining brain health actually are:
Staying mentally and socially active because learning new skills and tasks strengthens brain health.
Having a good diet.
Also key to good brain health are good sleep habits, limiting stress and effectively treating vascular risks such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
Judy Diebolt is a veteran Detroit journalist who was a reporter and editor for The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.