A couple of weeks ago, 3 different customers approached me at the pharmacy to inquire about a dietary supplement, Prevagen, widely advertised for promoting “healthy brain function," a "sharper mind," "better memory," and "clearer thinking."(2) The active ingredient in Prevagen is synthetically produced apoaequorin, a calcium binding protein originally found in jellyfish. The basis for suggesting its usefulness in memory enhancement seems to be the calcium binding properties of the protein. It is hypothesized that age-related memory decline is due to neuronal dysfunction which can occur when control of intracellular calcium concentrations is impaired (1). However, studies that have been published to support the claimed mechanism of action of apoaequorin on memory are limited to small, company-sponsored trials posted on the company’s website (2). Additionally, the company failed to report adverse drug reactions and the FDA found that more than one thousand adverse health events associated with the product, including seizures and strokes, some of which resulted in hospitalization, were not reported by the company (3).
So what do we tell our patients? With such limited evidence to support its efficacy and safety, I personally would not waste my money on it. Although memory slips can be frustrating and can trigger fears of looming dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, mild forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. It would be most appropriate for us as health care providers to educate patients that maintaining a healthy diet, a habitual physical exercise routine, and regular social engagements are essential in maintaining a healthy cognitive function and likely to possess additional health benefits. If a patient expresses concern about serious memory problems, refer them to their doctor or specialist.
- Toescu EC, Vreugdenhil M. Calcium and normal brain ageing. Cell Calcium. 2010; 47:158-164. Abstract
- Quincy Bioscience. View our research and studies on Prevagen®. https://www.prevagen.com/research/ Accessed March 1, 2017.
- FDA Warning Letter https://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2012/ucm324557.htm
- Image: http://img.medscape.com/thumbnail_library/is_160308_brain_jellyfish_memory_800x600.jpg