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.
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, the company 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.
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 way 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.
Likewise, there are many such supplements on the market. Some use proprietary ingredients, while others use a collection of herbs and natural compounds to try and improve brain function.
For example, one popular option is Neuro-Peak, which comes from the brand ZhZou.
Still, it is worth noting that 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. The site everup also highlights some of the risks and complexities of the approach.
But, nootropics are researched and there is evidence that some supplements, like Prevagen, may have significant impacts.
Now, as supplements go, Prevagen is incredibly simple. In fact, there is just one active ingredient plus the various components needed to put this into capsule form.
What is Apoaequorin?
The active ingredient in Prevagen is a compound called apoaequorin. As a result, the question ‘does Prevagen work’ is really asking whether apoaequorin works.
Apoaequorin is a protein that has been isolated from jellyfish. Specifically, it comes from the species Aequorea victoria.
This compound is supposed to play a key role promoting memory and cognitive functions overall.
However, it’s important to note that while the protein may be from a jellyfish – that’s not where the company is getting it. Instead, the FDA letter on the topic mentions this:
That practice is somewhat concerning, especially as it means the compound isn’t actually natural and is instead created artificially. Now, the approach isn’t necessarily unhealthy. After all, synthetic insulin is a common enough concept (2).
Still, the synthetic creation of the compound is worth mentioning, especially as the company’s marketing certainly doesn’t make this obvious.
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.
The question, does Prevagen work, is a very relevant one because there has been so much controversy surrounding it. In particular, the FTC has filed a complaint against the company, saying that the evidence does not support the company’s claims (3).
Additionally, the FDA also feels that the main ingredient (apoaequorin) isn’t suitable for a supplement, as it is a type of synthetic protein (4).
Potential benefits aside, supplements are meant to use natural compounds. Synthetically creating something isn’t the same thing – even if the company is simply copying a compound from nature.
In many ways, this controversy isn’t too surprising.
Proving the health benefits of any supplement or even medication comes with challenges. To do so, a considerable amount of research needs to be undertaken.
At the same time, science is a constantly changing and developing field. So, over time, researchers are learning new things and even disproving old theories. For example, the standard perspective has long been that fat is unhealthy. Yet, modern research into fat and cholesterol suggests that this may not be true at all.
There are also multiple specific points that the FTC has made about Prevagen, including how the product is marketed and the various claims that are made (5).
Not surprisingly, the company behind Prevagen strongly disagrees with the FTC complaint and they plan to fight it in court. Among other things, they make the following claim:
This controversy is ongoing and time will tell whether the company or the FTC wins the lawsuit. But, it is important to be aware of this debate if you’re considering taking Prevagen yourself.
Does Prevagen Work? The Research
As with any supplement, the question of ‘does it work’ is absolutely critical. So, in this case, we’re asking ‘does Prevagen work?’.
After all, you don’t want to be buying and taking a supplement if it doesn’t do you any good – even if it is entirely safe. And, with Prevagen, it’s clear that there is some controversy around the question.
But, in fairness, such controversy is likely, especially when it comes to supplements. For one thing, there are many large companies involved in the medication industry. As a result, there is also a considerable amount of money invested in various products and medications.
Because of this, it is often difficult for supplements to get the studies that they need to prove that health benefits exist. A similar problem exists for healthy food as well, such as the controversy that surrounded tart cherry juice and its benefits.
So, let’s take a look at the actual evidence for Prevagen. After all, this is critical if we want to answer the question, ‘does Prevagen work’.
The most important thing to note is that there hasn’t been all that much research – despite what the company implies. For example, on their site, there are just three studies mentioned under their discussion of research and evidence.
Two of those were simply studies that looked into safety. The final was the one below, which has also been published in a scientific journal (6):
Now, as the image suggests, the study did find some effect.
The design of the study was good as well. Specifically, the authors followed a model that is often referred to as the ‘gold standard’ in research, which is a randomized controlled trial (RCT). In this case, the study was also double-blinded and placebo controlled, both of which are important ways to ensure quality research.
In this design, participants were randomized into groups, where one received the supplement and the other was given a placebo.
The double-blind nature of the study means that neither the participants nor the researchers knew which group individual participants were in. This practice means that patients won’t be treated differently and reduces the chance of bias and psychological influences.
For example, the placebo effect means that people often see outcomes when they expect them and this is particularly true for measures that are subjective. By comparing the experimental group to the placebo group, the authors have the ability to filter out that impact.
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.
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.
First of all, the authors didn’t find any significant differences across the whole sample population.
However, they did find differences when they looked at 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 different for those taking the apoaequorin and those taking the placebo.
Still, as the company points out, there were some improvements, like in that graph from above.
So, what does this all mean? Does Prevagen work?
Well… there actually isn’t enough research to know.
The lack of statistical significance means that the effects of the study could have just been because of chance. Certainly, there is no scientific proof that the supplement works and this study is much less definitive than the company likes to imply.
To make matters worse, there is only the one study and that was conducted by the company selling the supplement. So, the potential for bias is very strong.
Likewise, the study was conducted in older adults – but the supplement tends to be used by people of all age groups and backgrounds. This is concerning because, without further research, there’s no way of knowing whether any observed benefits would apply to younger people.
If either of those effects is true, then the body may not have the chance to use apoaequorin. This issue is significant because apoaequorin is a relatively large protein and that does affect the way it is treated by the body (9,10). Still, more research is needed in this area too before any conclusions can be drawn.
Overall, none of this information rules out the potential of Prevagen. Indeed, the patterns that the study observed are interesting and mean that a benefit could exist.
But, considerably more research is needed to actually prove the concept.
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.
Additionally, there is more evidence for the safety of Prevagen than for its effects. And, as the company mentions, nobody is actually saying the supplement is unsafe.
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.
However, it is worth noting that, once again, there aren’t that many studies into safety. Likewise, those tend to cover healthy patients and don’t consider people with specific health conditions or who are on medication (11,12).
As a result, it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking the supplement if you have any health conditions or are on medication.
The scientific evidence for Prevagen may be limited but Prevagen reviews offer another perspective on the question ‘does Prevagen work’. After all, these reviews provide information about individual experiences with the supplements and the effects that people noticed.
For both the regular and the extra strength capsules, the views are mixed. In particular, there are some people that absolutely love the supplements but others swear that they have no effect.
At the same time, some of the negative reviews are related to the company itself, including some of the perspectives that I brought up earlier.
Collectively, the Prevagen reviews reinforce the idea that the supplements may work, at least for some people. In particular, there are enough positive reviews to suggest that the supplements may be worth trying at least once.
So, Does Prevagen Really Work?
Currently, there isn’t enough evidence to say whether or not Prevagen really works. 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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