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Can Prevagen Stop Alzheimer’s?

A Controversial Memory Supplement Under Scrutiny - Unveiling the Truth Behind Claims, Efficacy, and Potential Risks.

Can Prevagen Stop Alzheimer's?
Emma Yasinski
Emma Yasinski Staff Writer

If you ever watch cable television, you’ve probably seen the commercials. A healthy-looking senior introduces him or herself. Text at the left side of the screen includes the individual’s first name, along with the words “Real Prevagen User, compensated for their time.” Then you’ll see a series of clips of the person being active or enjoying family time while the person’s voice continues to explain how a supplement called Prevagen has helped keep his memory sharp so he can continue to get the most out of life while aging. It’s a compelling claim, especially because about six million people have Alzheimer’s today, and experts estimate that that number will be 14 million by 2060.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been fighting Quincy Bioscience, the supplement’s manufacturer, over these commercials and claims made in the company’s other marketing materials for more than a decade. The most recent headline came in March 2024, as a jury in New York determined that none of Prevagen’s eight marketing claims had sufficient scientific backing. 

Does Prevagen Work?

If you are wondering if Prevagen works, the short answer is ‘probably not.’ Prevagen hit the market in 2007. After the supplement had been on the market a little while, a study evaluating the pills in 218 adults over 40 years of age who took Prevagen for 90 days was published in 2016. The study is called the Madison Memory Study, and it’s the basis for most of the company’s claims about the supplement’s ability to improve memory. 

However, experts pointed out that the study didn’t initially show a statistically significant difference between the people who took the pills and those who didn’t. According to a Wired investigation, the company acknowledged that it found statistically significant differences by analyzing subsets of study participants, only a few of which turned up a difference. For example, all the participants had their cognition tested at the start of the study. When the researchers analyzed the results after 90 days, there were no differences in the cognition of the placebo group compared to the group that received Prevagen. However, if the researchers removed the people who had the lowest cognition at the start from the analysis, then there emerged a difference between the placebo and treatment groups. The researchers did 30 different subgroup analyses on the study, and the only one that provided statistically significant differences was the one in which they did not include the lowest-scoring participants at baseline. The FTC brought up this fact in a lawsuit essentially claiming that this type of analysis made it very likely that the company could dig up some positive results that may have only occurred by chance. The suit stated: 

After that initial failure, Quincy ran more than thirty “post hoc” analyses of the results, trying to find statistically significant differences between subgroups of the larger study population. A post hoc analysis is one in which researchers mine study data in an effort to locate statistically significant differences between subgroups of the broader study population. These analyses still found no statistically significant effects from taking Prevagen for almost all of the subgroups. The only statistically significant effects it did find were for “subjects within a normal cognitive range and those with mild to moderate impairment.” Those differences, however, were more likely due to chance than the result of genuine statistically significant findings—a problem inherent in post hoc subgroup analyses.” 

In July of 2020, a judge ruled that the company could continue to use the study to support its claims, but that it would have to include a disclaimer acknowledging that its claims are based on additional statistical analysis of subgroups within the study, rather than the initial treatment versus placebo group comparison. 

Can Prevagen Cause Side Effects? 

One of the main messages we like to drive home here at MedShadow is that any drug or supplement can cause side effects. With supplements, your best bet is to make sure that you’re carefully reading the label. It should contain a seal that says it’s been inspected by a third party. That doesn’t guarantee it works or that it won’t cause side effects, but it’s much less likely to actually contain the ingredients stated on the label and not be tainted by other substances.

The FDA has inspected Quincy’s manufacturing process and advertising claims more than once over the years. The agency has also suggested that the main ingredient in Prevagen (a lab-made form of a chemical called “apoaequorin,” that is typically found in jellyfish) could be considered a drug as opposed to a supplement—which would make it subject to much more stringent regulations. However, for now, Prevagen is still categorized as a “supplement,” and has a “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS designation from the FDA.

Nonetheless, between inspections of the company’s facilities and the investigation by Wired, records of more than a thousand reports of dangerous adverse effects have turned up. Between just 2008 and 2011, there were more than a thousand, only two of which were reported to the FDA. They included heart arrhythmias, vertigo, faiting, blood sugar problems, blood pressure changes, strokes and seizures. These reports may not represent a large portion of Prevagen users, as millions of people may have taken the supplement by now, but they are serious enough to consider.

How to Prevent Alzheimer’s

As of right now, Alzheimer’s can’t be cured, and there are no miracle supplements that can stop you from getting the disease, but there are lifestyle changes you can make that may help prevent it from starting or slow down the progression if you have it. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are key. Experts recommend the MIND diet, which is similar to the Mediterranean diet, except you also try to reduce your salt intake. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, nuts and whole grains. 

Get started here with MedShadow’s Mediterranean Diet Guide.

Additionally, your brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it by challenging it to learn and adapt, the stronger it’ll be. Play chess, do crossword puzzles, take classes or practice learning new skills and languages. 

Learn more about the habits you can start right now to help prevent dementia as you get older in MedShadow’s Prevent Alzheimer’s: Lifestyle Modifications You Can Make Today.

DISCLAIMER: MedShadow provides information and resources related to medications, their effects, and potential side effects. However, it is important to note that we are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The content on our site is intended for educational and informational purposes only. Individuals dealing with medical conditions or symptoms should seek guidance from a licensed healthcare professional, such as a physician or pharmacist, who can provide personalized medical advice tailored to their specific circumstances.

While we strive to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information presented on MedShadow, we cannot guarantee its completeness or suitability for any particular individual's medical needs. Therefore, we strongly encourage users to consult with qualified healthcare professionals regarding any health-related concerns or decisions. By accessing and using MedShadow, you acknowledge and agree that the information provided on the site is not a substitute for professional medical advice and that you should always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for any medical concerns.

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