By Diane Archer
Today, there are about 80,000 dietary supplement products on the market, up from 4,000 25 years ago. Of those, some 500 are memory supplement products. Between 2006 and 2015, sales of memory supplements nearly doubled to $643 million.
A GAO (Government Accountability Office) report released last month included tests of three of the most popular memory supplement products to determine whether they contained the ingredients listed on their labels. It found that two of the three did not and warns that they could be dangerous for older adults. In addition, two of the products were “adulterated with unknown substitute ingredients.
My advice: Avoid memory supplements as they might contain unsafe ingredients, not actually contain the ingredients listed on their label and have little evidence that they actually work.
GAO Samples Contained Unknown Substitutes
For two of the three memory supplement products the GAO tested, the agency found they did not contain Ginkgo biloba, even though it was listed as an ingredient on their labels, or the product contained far less than its label indicated. Rather, both memory supplement products contained an unknown substitute, and the GAO could not therefore vouch for the products’ safety. The third memory supplement product tested contained the fish oil and other ingredients listed on its label.
BTW, there is no concrete evidence that Ginkgo biloba does anything to improve memory. In a 2016 JAMA editorial in 2016, Pieter A. Cohen, MD, one of the contributors to the site Updates in Slow Medicine wrote, “continues to be sold ‘to support mental sharpness’ despite a large, high-quality NIH-funded study that found evidence to the contrary.
The GAO warns that heavy-metal contaminants in supplements, such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury, can be dangerous to people’s health. They may cause cancer. Indeed there are many ingredients in supplements that can cause harm.
Lack of FDA Regulatory Enforcement on Supplements
Notwithstanding the fact that supplements are largely unregulated, and they may contain ingredients that are dangerous to people’s health, supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry. Memory supplements account for a relatively small share of sales.
Curiously, the government claims that it does not allow importation of prescription drugs because they may be unsafe, yet it allows the unfettered sale of supplements, which are likely to be more unsafe than drugs bought from verified pharmacies abroad. Moreover, though the FDA has authority to regulate dietary supplements, generally the FDA tends not to do so and, when it does, it is only after they go to market. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has authority to regulate advertising of supplements but does precious little in that regard to ensure truth in advertising.
Diane Archer is founder and president of JustCareUSA, a digital media enterprise promoting the health and economic security of boomers and older adults.
This article originally appeared on JustCareUSA. Republished with permission.
Jonathan Block is MedShadow’s content editor. He has previously worked for Psychiatry Advisor, Modern Healthcare, Health Reform Week and The Pink Sheet.