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How to Be Savvy About Brain-Boosting Products

Separating fad from fact.

Key points

  • With the right resources, you can determine for yourself whether or not the latest brain-boosting product is worth the hype.
  • The National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association websites have reliable information about diets and brain supplements.
  • Pubmed and Google Scholar have scientific studies that have tested brain-boosting products.

I have given numerous talks about cognitive aging at the local and national levels. No matter the audience, I always get at least a few questions about the latest brain-boosting product/supplement/diet fad. Living near Silicon Valley, sometimes the fad is so new that I haven’t even heard about it. In this post, I’ll share with you the process that I use in ascertaining fad from fact on these products.

Start With Trusted Organizations Like the Alzheimer’s Association and National Institute on Aging

For information about new brain supplements, I start with the Alzheimer’s Association website. Not only does the website provide lots of helpful information on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, but in their “Alternative Treatments” section, they provide information on several brain supplements. For each supplement, they describe what it is, and why scientists think it might be helpful for cognitive function, summarize the results of high-quality scientific studies that tested that supplement, and conclude by stating whether or not there is sufficient scientific evidence to support the use of that supplement.

For information about diets or brain products, I go to the National Institute on Aging website. This is a fantastic resource for many different aspects of aging, including cognitive health and healthy eating. For example, they have an article regarding diets that are beneficial for long-term cognitive function.

Image by Freepik/Freepik
Source: Image by Freepik/Freepik

Prefer to do your own research?

For most people, the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging will suffice. However, if neither site has information about the product in which you are interested, or if you are more of a do-it-yourself type of person, you can use Pubmed or Google Scholar. Pubmed hosts scientific article summaries from hundreds of biomedical journals. Google Scholar also provides scientific article summaries but includes other sources such as theses and online repositories. For either method, in the search bar, type in the product name. If no articles pop up, then there is a good chance that the product has not been scientifically evaluated yet and you should hold off on purchasing it.

If several articles are listed, use the following tips to figure out which articles you should pay attention to and which you can ignore. The tips are listed from basic to more specific. Pay attention to only those articles that meet at least the first three tips.

  1. The study was conducted on humans. Animal studies are an important first step in the scientific process. However, results may not directly transfer over to people.
  2. The human participants in this study share important demographic similarities with you. If you are a 60-year-old woman and you find a study that was conducted on 20-year-old men, there’s a good chance that the findings may not apply to you.
  3. A large number of people participated in the study. The more people that participated in the study, the more confidence you can have in the results. A study with a few hundred people will have more reliable results than a study with only 20 people.
  4. An experiment was conducted. Only experiments are specifically designed to look at whether the brain product causes improvements in cognition. Observational studies are important but can only describe correlations. In other words, in observational studies, researchers ‘observe’ and detect naturally existing patterns. For those of you who remember your statistics class, correlation does not equal causation.
  5. The amount of brain product is reasonable. Oftentimes in experiments, people take a very large amount of the supplement. Is that a reasonable or healthy amount for you to consume regularly? Would you have to consume three pints of blueberries a day and could your tastebuds handle that? Also, is the cost of the supplement at that level financially feasible? Similarly, if it’s a product like a computerized game, how frequently did the participants have to use the brain product, and for how much time per session?
  6. The cognitive function tested matches your needs. If you are interested in trying this brain product because you think it will help you with your short-term memory, but it’s been tested on visual processing speed, it may not be what you are looking for.

There are a lot of products that claim to be brain-boosting. You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to ascertain which products are backed by scientific evidence and which are not. You can rely on what reputable organizations like the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association say about the product. Alternatively, if you are willing to invest some time, you can use PubMed or Google Scholar to see if any studies have tested the product yet and if those studies are relevant to your particular needs.


Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from

Google Scholar. Retrieved from

National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from

Pubmed. Retrieved from

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