Walking shoes and fish suppers are better than supplements that claim to boost brain health, experts say


Pensioners should invest in walking shoes and fish suppers, and not waste their money on supplements that promise to boost brain health, experts say.

The Global Council on Brain Health today finds that nutritional products which claim to help memory, thinking skills or reduce symptoms of dementia are a waste of money.

The body says there is “no convincing evidence” to support their use, and urged those in middle and older age to instead focus on having a healthy diet, with plenty of exercise. 

Its experts said: “If a nutritional supplement’s claims sound too good to be true, it probably is.”

Sarah Lenz Lock, the council’s executive director, said: “Rather than buying a dietary supplement, spend money on new walking shoes or a salmon dinner.”

The global council is an independent collaborative of scientists, health professionals, academics and policy experts. 

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director said: “These eminent experts have concluded it doesn’t do any good to take supplements to promote your brain health in later life so our advice to older people is to save your money and spend it on a healthy diet, full of delicious fruit and vegetables instead.”

In the UK more than £900 million a year is spent on food supplements, with spending expected to reach £1 billion within two years. 

The review, which focused on people aged 50 and over, is the result of a meeting of experts in Washington, who considered the evidence supporting a range of products. 

In a consensus statement, the council said: “For most people, the best way to get your nutrients for brain health is from a healthy diet.”

Warning that vitamins and minerals can be harmful if taken in excess, they warned: “In general, there is insufficient evidence that multivitamins will improve brain health.”

They said there was little careful study of supplements which specifically claim to boost cognition. 

“For the handful that have been researched, several well-designed studies of supplements for brain health found no benefit in people with normal nutrient levels,” they state. 

Omega-3 fish oil supplements are often marketed as benefiting cognitive function. 

The report recommends consumption of fatty fish, and other types of seafood which it said could help. But it said there was “insufficient evidence” to support the use of the supplements to such ends. 

However, the report stresses that those with specific deficiencies of vitamins could benefit from them.

“ Vitamin B12 deficiency and folate deficiency (also known as vitamin B9 deficiency) may negatively affect your brain health; therefore, supplementation may be beneficial for people with lower-than-recommended levels of these B vitamins,” the experts conclude. 

They also said vitamins could benefit pensioners for other health reasons.

Public Health England recommends that everyone consider taking a supplement during autumn and winter, as it is difficult to get enough vitamin D through sunlight. 


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