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Should You Take Brain Health Supplements?

Americans spend billions, but they’re unnecessary for most

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Popping a multivitamin every morning at breakfast may be a habit that your mother instilled in you as a child. Next to your cereal bowl, you found a chewable, teddy-bear-shaped tablet meant to make you grow big and strong or stay focused all day in school. Multivitamins are the most purchased type of dietary supplement. Close to half of all adults take them. One in five (21%) adults 50 and older take a vitamin or dietary supplement for their brain health.

But do they really help improve brain health?

Not likely, according to the Global Council on Brain Health. The scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts that make up the council compiled the evidence for the brain benefits of numerous supplements. They found insufficient evidence that brain health supplements are effective.

In fact, many people may be taking brain health supplements unnecessarily. Only people whose doctor diagnoses them with a vitamin deficiency — maybe because of a limited diet or a health condition — might benefit from brain health supplements.

“If you don’t have a documented vitamin deficiency, don’t waste the money,” says AARP’s senior vice president for policy, Sarah Lenz Lock, the Global Council’s executive director.

If you still want your daily brain health supplements, talk to your doctor about safe dosing and possible interactions with your other medications. Over-the-counter supplements can interfere with both prescription and over-the-counter medications. The supplement could make other drugs ineffective or cause potentially serious side effects. There’s also a risk of getting too much of some nutrients. Take stock of how much of the essential vitamins and minerals you get from your diet — including foods to which vitamins are added, such as cereal, bread and OJ — and make sure you’re not megadosing.

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