Do Memory Enhancing Supplements Work?

ByABC News
November 28, 2001, 4:35 PM

B O S T O N, Dec. 3 -- Ever have a "senior moment" and wonder if an herbal memory enhancer could help? Experts can't tell for sure if they will.

Popular "memory-boosting" supplements such as Focus Factor, Cognita with huperzine and Senior Moment part of a $140 million-a-year industry for such supplements all claim to promote more efficient memory, concentration and overall mental functioning.

But little scientific support for the claims emerged from an informal ABCNEWS survey of more than a dozen top experts on aging, Alzheimer's disease, drug safety and brain research.

"While there are reasons to believe that some of the ingredients might work, there is no convincing scientific evidence that they do work to improve or forestall normal age related memory losses," said Dr. Bruce Cohen, president and psychiatrist in chief at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. "There are studies under way of some of the ingredients, but it is too early to predict whether any will be safe and effective."

Small-Scale Evidence of Benefit

Experts agree there is some evidence of benefit for a few of the ingredients, such as choline, found in Focus Factor, which increases a key nervous system neurotransmitter in rats, but has yet to be proven in clinical trials to boost levels in humans.

Dr. Sid Gilman, professor and chair of the department of neurology at the University of Michigan, concurs. "There is no current evidence provided by rigorous double-blind placebo controlled clinical trials that any of these substances can improve memory in the aging brain," he said.

In statements to ABCNEWS, the companies that make the supplements defended their claims despite the lack of clinical trials. They cited previous studies conducted on specific ingredients.

ABCNEWS' Dr.Tim Johnson noted that the companies admit they have not studied their products in careful double-blind trials, but that they plan to start such studies in the near future.

"That seems to me like putting the cart before the horse," said Johnson. "But we don't have actual studies of these products per se to say that they're going to do what they claim."