It’s rare to find supplements that have been as heavily focused on as Prevagen, with the company even relying on an aggressive television marketing campaign. The product is specifically designed to boost memory, particularly memory decline related to age.
To do so, Prevagen contains the active ingredient apoaequorin and is supposed to be a way of improving memory and cognition in general. As a result, the supplement certainly has been popular, which is hardly surprising.
There is considerable hype behind the product, both from the company itself and from customers. But, does Prevagen work?
To look at that, we first have to consider what’s involved with Prevagen and how it is designed.
What is Prevagen?
Prevagen itself is a supplement that is designed to promote brain health and memory, with the company making bold claims to that effect.It was developed by Quincy Bioscience and has been heavily marketed.
The key claim is that the product helps with ‘mild memory problems’, specifically those that are connected to aging.
But, of course, the marketing implies much more than that. Indeed, the information on the supplements themselves promotes Prevagen as a way to improve memory and to support:
- Healthy brain function
- A sharper mind
- Clearer thinking
There are also various forms of the supplement available. Specifically, Quincy offers regular and extra strength, along with capsule and chewable forms of each.
At face value, the supplement sounds great. Being able to take something to improve your memory is always appealing, especially as many of us do face memory problems, particularly as we age.
Now, there are various natural approaches and food choices that can be used to help with memory as well. However, improving this area with a supplement is particularly appealing in many situations.
The Nootropic Angle
There is growing interest in the field, especially as people are fascinated with the idea of improving brain function. For example, The Art of Manliness offers a fascinating introduction into nootropics, while Mark's Daily Apple focuses on other ways to make your brain work better.
Now, generally speaking, there aren’t that many drugs that have been proven to impact cognition, with the most common being stimulants (like caffeine). But, research is continuing and there is the potential for this benefit to exist.
Still, the field is controversial.
Not everybody agrees that improving cognition in this way is possible or that it should be done. After all, medications and supplements do have the potential for side effects and these aren’t always discovered early on.
But, nootropics are researched and there is evidence that some supplements, like Prevagen, may have significant impacts.
As supplements go, Prevagen is incredibly simple. In fact, there is just one active ingredient.
The 'other ingredients' are included in that category because they don't have an active impact. They're simply present to create the capsule and ensure it behaves like it should.
What is Apoaequorin?
The active ingredient in Prevagen is a compound called apoaequorin. Apparently, this is responsible for all the cognition and memory benefits that Quincy boasts about.
Apoaequorin is a protein that has been isolated from jellyfish. Specifically, it comes from the species Aequorea victoria.
How Does Prevagen Work?
The concept behind Prevagen is that apoaequorin contains a similar sequence to a calcium binding protein in the body. The company argues that the levels of this protein decrease with age, increasing calcium in the brain and affecting memory.
Whether or not this is the case is somewhat debatable and the research is ongoing.
However, it is important to note that the effect would only tackle some issues with memory, not all of them. After all, the buildup of calcium could potentially cause memory problems but it certainly isn’t the only way such problems could arise.
Does Prevagen Improve Memory?
Prevagen is certainly controversial, but Quincy continues to make bold claims about their supplement. Which view is accurate?
Despite all the hype, the Prevagen website just links four studies:
- Madison Memory Study. A double-blinded placebo-controlled study that examined whether Prevagen provided more benefits than a placebo.
- Safety Study I. Examined the safety of the apoaequorin protein in rats.
- Safety Study II. A similar safety study in rats, this time focusing on allergic responses.
- Safety Study III. Another rat-based safety study, this time using higher doses.
So, there is just one study that supports the supplement.
The company relies on this study throughout their marketing, stating that Prevagen is 'clinically proven to improve memory and support brain function'. And, the study does look good.
The study specifically looked at outcomes for community living older adults, across a 90 day period. A total of 211 individuals completed the study, which is a fairly large number for this type of research.
Participants in the study were randomized into groups, where one group received the supplement and the other was given a placebo.
All of the members of the experimental group took a supplement daily that contained 10 mg of apoaequorin, along with rice flour. The placebo group’s supplement just contained the rice flour.
The authors didn’t find any significant differences across the whole sample population.
But, they did find differences between subgroups. Specifically, they considered two subgroups, which were for individuals with mild or no cognitive impairment. Focusing on those groups does make sense, as the supplements are marketed at healthy people.
But, despite all the hype – the study didn’t actually find statistically significant differences between the control and the sample group, not for any subgroup.
This means that the authors found that supplementing improved scores for cognition – but this outcome wasn’t statistically significant.
There are other issues too:
- There is only the one study on the topic. A single study isn't enough to prove anything, due to the complexity of research and how supplements impact human bodies.
- The study was conducted by the company selling the supplement. So, the potential for bias is very strong.
- The population targeted was older adults – but the supplement tends to be used by people of all age groups and backgrounds. It's not clear whether any benefits would apply to other age groups.
- Some research suggests that apoaequorin may not be able to survive passage in the gut. And, even if it does, it might not be able to pass through the blood-brain barrier (2,3). This issue is significant because apoaequorin is a relatively large protein and that does affect the way it is treated by the body (4,5).
Still, as the company points out, there were some improvements, like in that graph from earlier.
So, what does this all mean? Is Prevagen effective? Well… there isn’t enough research to know.
The patterns are interesting, especially for older adults. But, they're not strong enough to justify the claims that the company makes.
Prevagen is highly controversial, with many people claiming that it doesn't work. This perspective is strongly based on the study from above, including how Quincy promotes it and the claims that they make.
- In January 2017, the FTC brought forward a lawsuit against Prevagen, claiming that the company's marketing is deceptive and there is no evidence that the product works (6,7,8).
- The lawsuit was dismissed in September 2017. This outcome was partly because the FTC could only prove potential sources of error, but couldn't prove there were any errors (9).
- The FTC filed a notice of appeal in November 2017 to fight the ruling.
- In 2018, the AARP began advocacy efforts to have the regulatory agencies declare the ads as being misleading (10).
Time will tell what happens with the lawsuit appeal. But, even if Quincy ultimately wins, it's clear that there is considerable concern about the product.
Not surprisingly, Quincy strongly disagrees with the controversy. Among other things, they make the following claim:
This is true enough. But, as we've already highlighted, the research is extremely limited. Besides, calling four papers a 'large body of evidence' is a stretch.
At the end of the day, there's currently no way to know whether or not Prevagen works. It might and the company's research suggests that there is potential. Or, the supplement may just be an expensive placebo.
Prevagen Side Effects and Safety
The evidence for Prevagen’s benefits may not be in yet – but that doesn’t make the supplement worthless. Instead, it does have the potential to improve memory and cognition. For some people, this alone may be a reason to try the supplement.
Which begs the question, can you trust Prevagen?
Is Prevagen Safe?
As the company mentions, nobody is actually saying the supplement is unsafe. Instead, the controversy focuses on the product's effectiveness.
At the same time, Prevagen has been experiencing widespread use and there is relatively little indication that it causes health issues, even when used in the long-term.
Prevagen Side Effects
As WebMD points out, there hasn't been any clinical research focusing on side effects. Users have also reported side effects, including:
- Memory problems
- Difficulty sleeping
There isn't enough evidence to know whether Prevagen caused those side effects. They may have just happened at the same time. But, the issue does suggest a need for caution.
The scientific evidence for Prevagen may be limited, but reviews offer another angle.
These provide details about individual experiences. These perspectives may be more relevant, especially as the age and health of reviewers vary.
For example, Prevagen reviews on Amazon are generally positive - but there are plenty of negative reviews too. The table below shows a sample of those perspectives.
- Improved short-term memory, including ability to recall shopping lists
- Feel better rested after sleep
- Helps increase confidence
- Decreases 'senior moments'
- Reduces mental fog
- The supplement is very expensive
- Vivid dreams, including nightmares
- Scary side effects
- Saw no benefits
- Makes sleeping more difficult
Of course, you should be critical when considering these reviews. People are highly susceptible to the placebo effect, especially for areas like cognition, which are highly subjective. As such, some people may convince themselves that the supplement is helping.
You can also turn to sites like Consumer Lab to see a more objective and detailed consideration about Prevagen and its effectiveness.
So, Does Prevagen Really Work?
Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to say whether or not Prevagen improves cognition. As the FTC contends, the available research doesn’t prove anything and the company’s marketing is misleading.
But, that being said, there is still potential in Prevagen. After all, the research didn’t disprove anything either. Likewise, the supplement does appear to be safe.
So, with that in mind, Prevagen could be a good choice if you’re interested in nootropics and want to find ways to improve cognition and memory.
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