Boost brain health with a healthy diet - not supplements | Alzheimer's Prevention Registry

You are here

July 17, 2019

Boost brain health with a healthy diet - not supplements

By Alzheimer's Prevention Bulletin

Food Vegetable cooking meal shutterstock_335469521.jpg

A new review of scientific literature suggests that a healthy diet is a much better way to feed your brain than dietary supplements. The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), convened by AARP with support from Age UK, gathered its members to discuss dietary supplements and brain health for people aged 50 and above.  Their goal was to determine whether supplements can impact memory and thinking skills as people age.


Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs and other products taken by mouth. An estimated 85,000 supplements are available in the United States according to the Nutrition Business Journal. An AARP survey found there are more Americans 50 and older who say they take a supplement to reverse dementia than there are people diagnosed with the disease. And the older people are, the more likely they are to take one. It’s big business with billions of dollars in retail sales worldwide. A small but growing percentage of these claim to improve brain health. But do they really?


GCBH examined evidence available about vitamins and minerals with a focus on the eight B vitamins, vitamin D and vitamin E. They also looked at fish oil, coconut oil, caffeine, flavanols and several other supplements marketed to improve brain health. These products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration like prescription medications are, and there are no universal standards for their production.


Based on the data and research, GCBH does not recommend using supplements that claim to improve brain health and function.


Instead of taking supplements not backed by scientific evidence, the council’s experts recommend the following actions:


  • Get your nutrients through a healthy diet instead of supplements. Read more about foods that are good for your brain.
  • Do not take supplements without first speaking to your doctor.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be skeptical of the claims supplement manufacturers make.
  • Check the ingredients carefully. Products may not list all ingredients, and some may be harmful to you.
  • Don’t take more than you need. Some vitamins and minerals can be toxic at high levels.
  • If you have significant memory loss, consult your doctor and ask to check your B12 and folate levels.
  • Look for products that have been supported by high-quality research or tested by an independent third party.
    • Independent third parties include, NSF International and U.S. Pharmacopeia.
    • Check reputable websites including the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements and Cognitive Vitality.
  • Check labels for warnings related to health conditions you may have. Some medications cannot be taken with supplements. For example, vitamin K can decrease the effect of the blood thinner Coumadin and antioxidants may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Many supplements can increase your risks during surgery as well.


Problems with memory and thinking have been linked to deficiencies in certain nutrients but there is no evidence taking these as supplements will improve brain health. In fact, very few supplements have been tested for their safety and effectiveness. That’s why the Council recommends more high-quality clinical studies before supplements are sold to the public.


Keep an eye out of future studies on our website and watch for emails about studies you might be interested in joining.