Fake Alzheimer's Supplements
Exciting news for people like us who love supplements but hate the misinformation and poor quality products that saturate the market… The FDA announced actions against supplement brands that are making false claims about their products. One such claim, in great interest to me, is supplements that are claimed to treat or cure Alzheimer’s.
I’m not one to hold back much, but in case you didn’t know how I feel about this subject, let me divulge a few bits and pieces. I think that “practitioners”, pseudo-experts, and supplement companies that invoke Alzheimer’s in their marketing, especially claiming cures, treatment, or regression of symptoms are the lowest of the low. It’s insulting to those suffering with it, those who have died from Alzheimer’s and related morbidities, the families of those close to them, lifelong researchers in the field, and the medical professionals that work so hard to help people navigate that difficult road. My opinion? Close their businesses. If they are licensed, take it away from them. Prohibit them from working in the industry again. Heck, even make them formally apologize and include FACTS about the real outlook of the disease and where people can get help. (breathe Neal, breathe)
Alzheimer’s is scary stuff. My rant today explores the warning letters and who said what about what products. Because I’m not just a whiner (at least not today), I’m going to talk about supplements that MAY support brain health - but definitely won’t cure or treat Alzheimer’s. Finally, I’ll discuss something that you can do that WILL reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s. If you don’t MIND, of course. (That was a little hint. Subtle, right?)
The FDA Strikes Back
I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but I think the natural products industry doesn’t have enough oversight. The FDA expects voluntary compliance with the rules and regulations. That’s cool, to hope for the best, in that people and organizations will make the right decision. But seeing as Boy Scout troops and even adult sports leagues can have corruption over power and money, I think a healthier balance of oversight and autonomy is needed.
Because the FDA doesn’t have enough resources to stay on top of the public health issues created by the industry, they play whack-a-mole with the BIG problems - products that are unsafe or harming people.
I know what you’ll say: the FDA stinks. Many people who love supplements aren’t fond of Big Pharma and their relationship with the FDA. It’s a trust issue. They worry about corruption and bias that favors corporations over people.
I believe everyone stinks to some degree. So I understand the hate and the concern, but the FDA is all we’ve got.
There is no organization that is tasked with checking a supplement product’s quality before it hits the market. There is no organization that regularly reviews a vitamin business’s marketing materials and approves it for consumer consumption. There’s no registration process someone like me has to go through before I can start throwing advice around like rice at a wedding.
The FDA’s it, and frankly, we need them to do more. Do they need to be super strict meanies? No. But we need them to help keep the industry in line to help protect your wallets and your health.
They took some action recently against supplement companies making false claims on a number of fronts. It seems it stems from an attempt to reign in misinformation around Alzheimer’s disease claims and products.
They issued a number of warning letters to about 12 companies who were making health claims.
A supplement is NOT a drug, in that there is no requirement for safety and effectiveness to be proven before the product is brought to market. Since there is no evidence required, a supplement company cannot make a health claim, or a claim that the product can help treat, diagnose, or cure a disease. At best, we can say that nutrient or ingredient can support a body system. Sinus Blaster can support upper respiratory health. Omega-3 can support cardiovascular health. On and on.
Cashiers who’ve worked in grocery stores that have supplements know this. It’s a required part of training anyone who works around supplements. So when a company straight out says something like their products are “a vital component in the treatment of Alzheimer’s,” you know they don’t give a hoot about the regulations. If they’re willing to be so blatant about their marketing, do we think they’ll be angels on the manufacturing side?
Here’s a list of the brands and the products that received warning letters. You may not recognize some of these as they’re not BIG brands, but that doesn’t mean it’s just a few bad apples:
- Gold Crown Natural Products
- Peak Nootropics
- DK Vitamins
- Sovereign Laboratories
- Blue Ridge Silver
- Nutrition Coalition
- John Gray’s Mars Venus
- TEK Naturals - who are on 6 different websites!
- Earth Turns
- Emmbros Overseas Lifestyle - 4 different websites including musclexp.com and nourishvitals.com
- Pure Nootropics
- BR Naturals
These guys were saying some WILD stuff. Here’s an expert or two:
- “Melatonin supplements are used to help Alzheimer’s disease… Many experiments have been conducted on this and it is proved that melatonin supplements are used to cure Alzheimer’s disease.” - Gold Crown Natural Products
- “Bacopa… use to stave off illnesses such as Alzheimer’s.” - Peak Nootropics
- “There has been quite a lot of research indicating that Vitamin D is helpful in fighting Alzheimer’s diseases… and also quite a lot of research to say Curcumin also helps off that horrible disease.” - Nutrition Coalition
- “Alpha GPC is helpful in reducing symptoms of cognitive decline... (such as senile dementia and Alzheimer’s).
This is pretty direct, whacking you right over the head with some blatant lies.
Some companies are pretty gutsy, naming their websites stuff like “Alzheimer’s Organization” and even registering a .org URL. A few created products with the disease in their name; Alzheimer’s Synergy Oil is an essential oil blend created by people who either don’t know how to read or don’t care about profiting off the suffering of others.
The warning letters are the first step to regulatory hell for these companies. The FDA has found a problem and is calling you out on it and making it public knowledge you are out of compliance. You have an opportunity to take corrective action, but the whole process is going to cost you a ton of money in fines, consultants, and legal fees to fix.
There’s a real chance that this doesn’t go much farther than this “slap on the wrist.” An even bigger likelihood is that many consumers, even those purchasing those products, won’t even know this is a problem. The media tries to get that info out there, but the FDA isn’t shutting anyone down now.
The Ingredients They Tout And Why That’s Insane
If you read through the letters and the summary, you’ll see a list of ingredients these brands are making claims around. Here’s a simplified version of that list:
- Alpha GPC
- Avocado Oil
- Colloidal silver
- Essential Oils & Aromatherapy
- Green Tea
- Virgin Coconut Oil (as compared to the trampy Coconut Oil you get at chain stores)
- Vitamin D
The thing that blows my mind about this is just how utterly common and dull most of these things are. You REALLY have to be desperate for the $$$ to make the claim that melatonin and Vitamin D will stop dementia. So many people are using these compounds daily, you’d figure that if they were so successful, no one would have Alzheimer’s!
For the most part, these aren’t the ingredients I would generally consider the top offenders. We’ll discuss those in a bit.
I can understand some of it. Avocado and coconut oil are healthy fats and great alternatives to inflammatory oils, but they themselves are part of a comprehensive plan. Plus, too much coconut oil will worsen your cardiovascular well-being, as it is the same as butter.
I’ve heard and seen the curcumin/turmeric craze and watched people close to us recommend it willy-nilly, even claiming a benefit to brain health via reduction of inflammation. While I know some people will benefit from low dose, short term turmeric use, I believe the non-judicious use of turmeric will be revealed as the next “oopsie” moment in natural products. Compounds with anti-inflammatory mechanisms of action like turmeric will carry a risk that we are familiar with, akin to NSAID drugs. Use turmeric, but with regard to your total health picture. Don’t use turmeric to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s, because that is straight-up lies.
The Methylation Misconnection
In our discussion of the now-called Methylation Frauds, we discussed how the head nut believes that most of us have a problem that causes the under-methylation of B Vitamins, leading to an elevation of homocysteine, which then leads to numerous inflammatory states, gives you diseases like Alzheimer’s, files your taxes incorrectly - all sorts of horrible stuff. He says that over 40% of the population has these abnormalities and as a result we are all time bombs of disease because of this one simple cause. No red flags there, especially since we’ve understood these pathways for some time.
Under-methylation is not a problem for almost all of us. If we were under-methylated, the diagnostics are easy and cheap. The treatment is quick and established. Read the full article for the deep dive.
The treatment for under-methylation is a concoction of high dose B Vitamins, synthetic vitamins and antioxidants.
Mega-dosing B Vitamins leads to nothing but expensive, stinky urine. It is generally unnecessary in a majority of the population. Using a commercial, unapproved test like 23andMe to show you have a potential mutation on a gene is a scare tactic that has the trappings of legitimacy. We have LOTS of gene mutations all over the place and many of our important body systems get along just fine because we don’t need 100% function of every little step in the process. We’ve evolved to get along with a nearly perfect system, adjusting for imperfections along the way.
“But I’ve heard some people do well with MTHFR therapies!” Fair enough. I’ve heard anecdotes myself, of course. Here’s how I see this: If you throw 7+ supplements at someone who is motivated enough to spend this kind of money on alternative practitioners, these “tests”, and the complex regimen after, you probably have someone who is willing to make numerous drastic and some potentially healthy lifestyle changes. A scary diagnosis will do that. If you throw spaghetti at the wall, some will stick. Some positive improvement, especially in their mindset, will probably be seen in people who make dramatic lifestyle changes, because even the most unscrupulous charlatans will have some advice based on real science. Like stop eating junk food and reduce inflammation and improve your Omega-3 intake, for example. People are now hopeful, and as we know, positive thinking is a powerful healer.
It’s the chicken or the egg: do multivitamins make people healthier, or are people who are conscious enough to search out multivitamins healthier people already?
Alzheimer’s is scary. It’s one of our 7 Deadly Deceptions - right along with methylation - that fake-experts aka liars use to give themselves a niche in the wellness space. We should do what we can to prevent Alzheimer’s, but in our most vulnerable moments, we can’t turn to misinformation as a “hail mary.” It gives these quacks legitimacy; they grow like weeds with every bit of attention.
There’s a connection between poor diets, inflammation and Alzheimer’s. We need to start on the right track TODAY while being aware of the plethora of misinformation and claims out there.
What Can We Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s?
We don’t know the secret. As of now, we still don’t understand the relationships of risk factors, disease, and timing fully enough to lay out a plan to prevent us from getting it 100% of the time. It’s probably not one thing, but a combination of risks: age, lifestyle, medical conditions, genetics and more.
The scientific media is a very different animal from quality research that is getting done. The scientific media wants clicks and attention, so they report on every study with any potential, without regard to the merits of the study or scope. It’s like putting together a puzzle and declaring loudly for all to hear, “I’ve found one of the edge pieces! It’s almost done!” No, Suzie, you’ve got like 5 pieces together… Remember this before making dramatic changes, adding extra worry, or grabbing this or that supplement with the hopes of avoiding the beast of dementia.
You can’t change your age or genetics, but a few promising studies have shown the impact on lifestyle changes and cardiovascular disease prevention on risk reduction. Dramatic risk reduction too.
Our Wellness Pyramid provides a framework for managing your wellness in a holistic and systematic manner. It provides a consistency in a complex world with seemingly conflicting advice at every turn. The Wellness Pyramid coupled with the current best research in Alzheimer’s can help you create disciplined practices that will reduce Alzheimer’s risk, mainly from lifestyle modifications.
Bottom Of The Pyramid For Alzheimer’s Prevention
The bottom of the pyramid represents the lifestyle choices we make multiple times a day. Nailing this foundational part of the process will reduce risk not only in Alzheimer’s, but also other chronic illnesses that plague modern society: diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Here’s what we have to do:
Avoiding Bad Chemicals: No more smoking or heavy drinking. While I believe marijuana should be legal, don’t go killing off all of your brain cells. Moderation is the key.
Protect Ya Neck: Not just a warning from the Wu-Tang Clan, but the Alzheimer’s Association wants to remind us that head trauma can often lead to early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s. Wear your helmets. Wear your seatbelts. Quit the football team now.
Sleep: A recent small study linked poor sleep to beta-amyloid accumulation. Beta-amyloid is a waste protein that accumulates in our brains and has been linked to Alzheimer’s. Is there a connection? We don’t know. Address sleep issues ASAP for your health and maybe, just maybe, for Alzheimer’s.
Exercise: There seems to be a connection between cardiovascular health and Alzheimer’s. Those with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, for example, are at higher risk for Alzheimer’s. Regular exercise, especially cardio, has a tremendous impact on all health, but especially gets that blood flowing the brain.
Being Social: No, not reposting memes on Facebook. In fact, getting off Facebook will probably pay dividends on your life in so many ways. As we age we become loners; keep making time to engage with others in social or work environments as a way to stay sharp.
Nutrition: The big one. We’ve covered how to Eat to Fuel Your Fire and how to manage food intake. Making healthy food choices isn’t as hard as many think, especially with the framework of those two articles in mind. We’ve produced a Simple Diet Fixes one page guide that you can download below.
In general, avoiding sugary, processed and packaged foods is the cornerstone. Replacing them with high quality, real foods, especially dark leafy green vegetables and blue and red fruits, will move you miles ahead in many ways.
A few cardiovascular-healthy diets have been researched and the results are pretty clear: diet can reduce one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s pretty dramatically. Two diets, the DASH diet and Mediterranean, seem to have the greatest benefits. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and is normally recommended to people when they first get diagnosed with high blood pressure. It’s rich in fruits and vegetables, low saturated fats, limiting sodium, sugar, and red meat. The Mediterranean diet is basically similar, but recommends healthy fats especially from fish and shellfish, and swapping butter for well-made olive oil. We’ll be doing a future article on fats to do a deep dive on what makes a fat healthy or not.
These two diets have been combined to form Voltron. The MIND Diet, or the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is a combo of the two similar diets and turned into a system. Let’s blow your MINDs!
The MIND Diet
The MIND diet is a combination of the DASH and Mediterranean diet that has shown promise in risk reduction around Alzheimer’s disease. They’ve systematized the recommendations and assigned point values for each recommendation.
Eat these things:
❏ At least three servings of whole grains a day
❏ Green leafy vegetables (such as salad) at least 6 times a week
❏ Other vegetables at least once a day
❏ Berries at least twice a week
❏ Fish at least once a week
❏ Poultry at least twice a week
❏ Beans more than three times a week
❏ Nuts at least five times a week
❏ Mainly olive oil for cooking
❏ No more than one glass of wine or other alcoholic drink a day
❏ Red meat less than four times a week
❏ Less than a tablespoon of butter or margarine a day
❏ Less than a serving of cheese a week
❏ Less than five pastries or sweets a week
❏ Fried or fast food less than once a week
Each box is one point. Take a minute and calculate your score. We’ll wait!
People who get the most points will have the greatest risk reduction, but those who even get 7.5 points on average will still have a pronounced benefit - up to a 30% reduction. That’s HUGE.
To put it another way, even moderate adherence to the MIND diet will do you good. Some days (or years) you’ll be off, but it won’t be wasted time or effort. Just keep above 8 points and you’ll be investing in a future with great returns.
From the study: “The estimated effect was a 53% reduction in the rate of AD for persons in the highest [third] of MIND scores and a 35% reduction for the middle [third] of scores compared with the lowest [third].”
If you notice, these diets aren’t sexy. It’s not #MakeDietsPrehistoricAgain aka Paleo, Keto, Oreo only, etc etc. It’s common sense and evidenced based.
The Middle of The Pyramid For Alzheimer’s Prevention
The middle of the Wellness Pyramid represents the things you can buy. Supplements and over-the-counter products belong here.
In the low-middle of the Pyramid is what we call the Vital 5, or 5 nutrients many of us aren’t getting enough of, even in the best diets, that have a demonstrated profound benefit on wellness if we do. I’d LOVE it if we got these from the diet, but for many of them, it is difficult. Sometimes, it is cheaper and easier to use a supplement. These are:
Omega-3’s: We need approximately 3000mg daily, but many of us are getting less than 500mg from our diet. Because of confusion, people are buying supplements that are only adding another 300mg or so to the total. Bump up your fish intake as the MIND diet says, then supplement with the rest. Omega-3 intake may have a benefit in Alzheimer’s risk reduction. More study is needed around the supplements; we need to determine how much of which Omega-3 (EPA or DHA) will help the most. Our favorite is Alaskan Omega 900 or Ultra Pure Omega liquid.
Probiotics: A very small, loosey-goosey study has shown how the microbiome may have a correlation to Alzheimer’s risk. Who knows. I don’t believe probiotics will help with Alzheimer’s, nor should anyone make that claim. Our guts are a hot mess, though, and a well-made probiotic is the only way to ensure consistency of strains and amounts daily. Probiotic Complete for the win.
Calcium and Bone Nutrients: The NIH says about 40% of us get our daily requirements. The result is weakened bones. Taking too much of the wrong form of calcium will increase the calcification of small and large blood vessels, which probably could contribute to heart disease and even Alzheimer’s. Calcium supplementation should involve the MCHA form and the total intake of calcium (diet and supplements) should not exceed the NIH’s recommendation for your age and gender. Calcium Care is our go to all day long.
Protein: Proteins are the building blocks of everything structural and otherwise. As a group, “humans” do a good job of getting enough protein. Specific demographics have lower and lower intakes as they age. Shoot for approximately 1 gram for every kg of body weight. Divide your weight by 2.2 to get the kg amount, for you non-metric people out there. Adequate protein is a big part of that exercise that’s so important to prevent Alzheimer’s; you can’t work out if your muscles are weak and diminishing over time. I’m digging on collagen as a protein supplement, so check out Vital Proteins and be on the lookout for our own collagen shortly!
Multivitamins: I tell people to throw away their multivitamin. They don’t do anything for your long term health from a risk reduction or prevention standpoint. Instead, I recommend getting whole food supplements including well-made green powders, as many of us won’t get the points for that on the MIND diet scale. Check out Vital Greens and Reds or Supergreens.
Other Supplements For Brain Support
We climb the Pyramid, starting at the bottom. We shouldn’t look to supplements without first adjusting our diet and other lifestyle risks and targeting the Vital 5. If we do this, we can then experiment with other supplements. e should do so in a scientific manner. Ask these questions of any supplement you want to add to the regimen:
- What form should I be taking?
- What dose do I need?
- What is the evidence or science around this? Is is little, or substantial?
- How long should I be using this?
- What is the goal? How do I know it is working, and how can I be certain of that?
Too often, people will start something because they heard somewhere it would help, then take it forever, eventually forgetting while hey take it. This is obviously a bad thing, wasting money and time.
The Common Supplements With Alzheimer’s Claims
There’s a set of common offenders that the general population looks to for memory support. By now, we have a clear understanding that almost none of these will have any impact, because small, exploratory studies have shown this.
Huperzine A - This compound has been a part of Chinese medicine for centuries and seems to have a similar mechanism of action to medications used for Alzheimer’s and dementia management. Despite this, it has been shown to not change the picture. It’s best to use the standardized, pure medications here.
CoQ10 - Oh, hey, we just covered that! CoQ10 depletes as we age, under certain health conditions, and even as a result of certain medications. People are hot for it as it is found in high amounts in the brain. A version of CoQ10 was studied for Alzheimer’s but showed no benefit. This is a safe supplement to take as long as you follow our recommendations, but would be largely unnecessary in Alzheimer’s prevention.
Phsophatidylserine - This compound seems to have a role in strengthening cell membranes, especially in nerves and the brain. Small studies DID show promise, but were halted because the product originally came from cows, and some of those cows were pretty angry it seems. Products are now from soy. This is one of those supplements that we need more research, but I would not be opposed to someone wanting to try this. We have this in our Vital Brain product.
Ginkgo biloba - Everyone associates Ginkgo and memory. It has anti-inflammatory benefits and has had positive effects on cells in the body, especially the brain. The NIH studied the snot out of Ginkgo and it is conclusive that ginkgo will have no effect. Don’t waste your time.
Coral Calcium - Coral calcium is simply calcium carbonate, our least favorite calcium form. There’s plenty of data to show that too much of this form deposits into soft tissues in the vasculature and can pose a long term health risk, especially if doses are too high. People claiming calcium helps dementia are incorrect, as there is no evidence in favor of it.
Of these common offenders, only a couple have any real promise. They come second, though, to the first few steps of the Wellness Pyramid and should be dosed correctly using the cleanest sources available.
Top Of The Pyramid: Where To Get Good Alzheimer’s Info
The top of the Wellness Pyramid involves medical expertise: doctors, diagnostics, or even surgeries. It is an essential part of our wellness journey; we can’t avoid the traditional medical establishment nor should we. We can recognize it’s weaknesses, but still identify the numerous benefits and determine how to best navigate and use it as a part of our life. Almost like one of our ex’s, am I right?
It goes without saying, but I don’t recommend you get your medical information solely from blogs. I mean, mine’s awesome, but there’s a lot of garbage out there. We used to be called “Village Vitality” because we felt that it takes a village of experts to help you along your journey. We changed our name because Vitality reminds people of male enhancement pills. I was going to say something intelligent, but now I’ve lost my train of thought.
There are 4 main places I’d recommend you look for guidance with Alzheimer’s information:
- The Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org
- Local support groups that are sanctioned by the Alzheimer’s Association. There’s a chance you could get caught up in the wrong group who are peddling products or misinformation. Be aware!
- Your physician will be air traffic control in lining you up with your local or regional experts in Alzheimer’s care. Your doc is stop #1 to ensure you are managing your risks.
- Neurologists are the experts here and will help with diagnosis and treatment.
My closing thought: don’t try to do this without your doctor or other traditional practitioners. By “this”, I mean life. Alternative practitioners can be great, but they should be a part of your team, not the end all and be all.
Fuzzy, Foggy Thinking - The First Steps To Dementia?
We’ve all been there. Not as sharp as we normally are. We can’t remember things as vividly as we used to. Maybe it happens more frequently, it seems, and we start getting worried.
Fuzzy, foggy thinking and “memory loss” are of the most common concerns brought up by my customers, next to gut health and the new problem of CBD-deficiency.
While REAL memory loss can be a sign of early dementia, what most people are experience does not fit into this category. There are so many factors that can affect your perception of your memory and thinking, it’s difficult to pin it down to anything. Notice I said perception, because I believe that for many of those raising the concern, this is a perception issue and most likely not an actual trend or pattern.
“Things were better when I was younger!” A rallying cry for many parts of life, but as we’ve seen in the political arena, that thinking can be dangerous. Alzheimer’s is an example of a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, meaning it gets worse over time. It starts mostly when we get older. I see how people can make the connection. I don’t think most people’s memory flits are a sign of anything but normal life and probably that the bottom of your Pyramid could use some tweaking.
Here’s the thing. I’m 38 and I have fuzzy, foggy thinking. I may be one of those people looking back on my prime and reminiscing of how sharp I was. I hopefully will have my employees to remind me of how many times I lose my train of thought, forget words, and get distracted easily.
Enough on the psychology of it. Most people suffer from fuzzy, foggy thinking because they’re not eating enough of the right things at the right time. Small, frequent meals with the right ratios of nutrient dense foods is the answer here. In other words, Eat To Fuel Your Fire. Your brain is a glucose-eating machine and you need to supply it with a steady stream. Otherwise, it won’t function as expected.
Other lifestyle factors contribute to fuzzy and foggy thinking that show it’s not early-onset dementia. Stress, multitasking, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, our work environments, and our addiction to devices all contribute.
Work that Wellness Pyramid to reduce the fuzzy, foggy thinking. And be honest about how sharp you really were “back in the day.” You probably are like me, dealing with a lot, and generally “on” but have your “off” moments now as frequently as you did then.
Be Armed Against Alzheimer’s
I’m happy the FDA took action, but I feel it was a small dent in a very large, complex problem. In a system of voluntary compliance and low resources, misinformation and garbage product runs amok.
The people who make false claims about Alzheimer’s treatment are the lowest of the low. Whether it is someone who is actively preying on a mark as many of these companies are, or someone who believes they are doing what’s right, making recommendations contrary to established science to people who are vulnerable and at times desperate is unforgivable.
Practitioners of all disciplines must balance 2 things: what’s real and hope. We have to be encouraging of our customers and patients. I’ve found that being frank about everything works best, but I always add in all the known possibilities, giving tips for getting the most out of those options. I may not agree with a product’s use, but I can guarantee the right forms, the right doses, of clean products if my customers want to experiment.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s, it’s as simple as implementing our evidenced-based Wellness Pyramid, utilizing the MIND diet scorecard to keep you on track. Starting now, whether you are older or are a spring chicken, will help you control the risks you can control.
The biggest take home today is this: you are getting hit from all angles. The system almost breeds it and there is little “protection” against bad information, claims, and false hope. Your best weapon with Alzheimer’s prevention (and all things wellness), is awareness of the current reality. Armed with this, build yourself a team of experts dedicated to helping you achieve your best life possible. Finally, don’t accept information at face value. Check and re-check with actual experts to get a clearer picture of what is real.
Just trying to keep it real...
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth