Do Health Supplements Really Prevent Dementia?

many different kinds of pills

While medical science has made great strides in dementia research over the years, we still are searching for a cure. Recently, there has been a surge of health supplements that have been touted to help prevent dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. Are these claims valid, or are they simply pseudoscientific nonsense?

According to an opinion piece in a recent issue of the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), three expert neurologists from the University of California San Francisco’s (UCSF) Memory and Aging Center state that these claims are “false hope” and that seniors are being “ripped off” by this multi-billion-dollar industry.

“No known dietary supplement prevents cognitive decline or dementia,” the neurologists write, “yet supplements advertised as such are widely available and appear to gain legitimacy when sold by major U.S. retailers.” In their paper, the neurologists warn about medical techniques that claim to counteract issues like mold exposure, metal toxicity and infectious diseases – causes that are said to be linked to dementia without any substantial proof.

The neurologists state that medical professionals who tout these techniques “...may stand to gain financially by promoting interventions that are not covered by insurance, such as intravenous nutrition, personalized detoxification, chelation therapy, antibiotics or stem cell therapy. These interventions lack a known mechanism for treating dementia and are costly, unregulated and potentially harmful.”

Do Health Supplements Cause More Harm than Good?

According to Heather Battey, Executive Director at amavida, a dementia care community in Fort Myers, Florida, these health supplements and treatments aren’t just ineffective – some of them can be downright harmful to senior adults.

“The issue with these treatments that promise the moon is that patients may take what they say at face value and use them instead of seeking an appropriate diagnosis and treatment,” she says. Since the FDA doesn’t review dietary supplements to ensure they’re safe and effective, people could spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on ingredients that aren’t doing anything to help their condition. Plus, because there is no regulation of the supplement industry, patients can’t even be sure that what’s labeled on the bottle is what’s actually in the bottle.

“Even if the supplements don’t cause health issues by themselves, there are many natural ingredients that can interact negatively with prescriptions, and some that cause problems for a certain segment of the population,” she says. “Not only are these manufacturers making promises they can’t keep, but they’re also putting people at risk. What they’re doing is unethical and making it that much more difficult for people to separate fact from fiction when it comes to dementia treatments and research.”

Alternative Solutions to Taking Supplements

Heather says that it is important for older adults (and younger ones, too) to practice preventative measures that can help stave off dementia. “Instead of spending money on pills that promise a magical result, though, you should focus on techniques that have been scientifically proven to help reduce your risk of dementia: a healthy diet, regular exercise and staying socially active.”

Eat right. A nutritious, balanced diet is one of the best things you can do to ensure optimum brain health. Plus, the foods we eat are much better carriers for our needed vitamins and minerals than any supplement or multivitamin. Heather suggests a heart-healthy diet of lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Go easy on red meats, she says, and keep your salt, sugar and alcohol intake to a minimum.

“Eating right makes us feel better, helps us sleep deeper and gives us more energy,” she says. “When we feel better, it’s a lot easier to continue doing the things that are good for our health. It’s a positive feedback loop, and will improve your quality of life alongside reducing your risk of cognitive decline.”

Get moving. Getting regular exercise is another aspect of keeping your brain healthy. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get 2.5 hours of cardiovascular exercise each week, alongside strength training to build and tone muscle. While that may sound like a lot for those of us who prefer to sit on the couch, never fear – those 2.5 hours can be taken as manageable chunks. Remember, even a little bit of exercise is better than nothing at all, so don’t worry about running a marathon – taking a walk around the block us just fine.

Keep on top of your health. Make sure you visit your physician regularly to get wellness checkups and ensure that whatever medicines you are taking are effective, being used correctly and are still needed. Your doctor can also keep you up-to-date on any techniques that have been discovered as well as assist you with your changing needs. Taking care of your health can also help you spot and treat issues before they become major.

Stay social. Keeping our brain active and healthy is just as important as keeping our body moving and grooving. Seniors who remain active with friends and family, seek out exciting opportunities and continue to engage in hobbies and interests they love have a reduced risk of depression, diseases like diabetes and have better cognitive functioning than other older adults who are more reclusive. Having a strong social network also ensures you have people looking out for you who may be able to notice any issues before you yourself are aware of them – or are people you can call on when you need a helping hand.

In conclusion, says Heather, it’s all about common sense.

“The best thing we can do for our bodies and minds now are the best things we can do to help reduce the risk of developing dementia – and that’s a good thing,” she says. “That means you don’t have to do anything special or different; you just need to keep practicing good, healthy habits and doing everything you can to make yourself happy and healthy now ... which will pay off in the future. At amavida, we’re focused on helping our residents stay active and independent so they can enjoy this time of life in the way they deserve. From nutritionally balanced meals to exciting events and opportunities to a full community of like-minded friends, seniors will find it all at amavida.”

For more information about dementia risks, or to learn more about our resort-style senior living community, contact us today at 239-895-9191.