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Does Prevagen Help to Improve Memory?

You may have seen TV advertising for a dietary supplement called Prevagen to improve memory. Now the FTC has called the product into question.

The Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General filed a consumer protection complaint against the maker of Prevagen in January, 2017. They charged the marketers of Prevagen with making deceptive memory and cognitive improvement claims. This supplement has been advertised on television as “clinically shown to improve short term memory.”

According to the company that makes Prevagen, Quincy Bioscience:

“On September 29, Judge Louis Stanton of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York dismissed the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General’s complaint against Quincy Bioscience, the makers of Prevagen.”

That’s not quite the end of the story, though. The FTC appealed the case. We recently received a question and discovered that a jury had rendered a verdict.

The Jury Decision Was Mixed:

Q. What is your take on Prevagen? I’ve seen ads on TV that imply it does miracles for brain health.

As far as I can tell from some of my own research, there is no substantial scientific research backing the claims of this product, yet it is freely pushed by various people who claim to be upstanding citizens like teachers, writers, pharmacists, etc. Should we believe them?

A. TV commercials for Prevagen are compelling, as you point out. Testimonials from people engaged in active lifestyles have suggested that the dietary supplement can improve memory and help people stay sharp as they age. But this product has been controversial for years.

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New York Attorney General alleged that the company was making false claims about memory and cognitive benefits. Although the district court dismissed the suit, the FTC appealed. A recent jury verdict (March 11, 2024) in New York was complicated.

It found that two claims were materially misleading:

“Prevagen reduces memory problems associated with aging,” and “Prevagen is clinically shown to reduce memory problems associated with aging.”

According to the jury, though, other advertising claims by Quincy Bioscience were not “materially misleading.”

The company released this statement:

“We are pleased that a federal jury in New York concluded today that the New York Attorney General failed to prove its deceptive advertising and labeling case against Quincy Bioscience’s key advertising claims for Prevagen®, including the claim that Prevagen ‘improves memory.’”

In the future, we would love to see large, long-term randomized clinical trials utilizing Prevagen. That way consumers might have a better idea how well this dietary supplement could perform over an extended period of time. To learn more about the lawsuit, keep reading.

People Want to Know: Does Prevagen Work?

Over the years we have heard from a number of readers who have asked about Prevagen. Here are just some of the questions we have received:

Jim in Durham, NC, asked:

“Hi Joe and Terry. Have you any words of wisdom regarding Prevagen? Does it work? What can I use for mental clarity and acuity?”

Carolyn in Vance, AL, wondered:

“I saw an advertisement for Prevagen, a protein from the ocean that protects our brain cells as we age and provides a better memory. Will this work?”

Tony in Greenville, SC, inquired:

“What are your comments on the supplement Prevagen? I heard advertising that it protects cells that deal with our memory and can even noticeably improve our memory? Is this false or misleading advertising?”

Charles has a lot of company with his question:

“As a member of the baby boomer generation, I am reaching an age where one expects to see some slowing of focus and cognitive function. Thus far, this has not interfered with my daily activities or work, and I’d like to keep it that way. One hears various advertisements on the radio, etc. for products that are intended to help with this. The most appealing commercials are for Prevagen. I would be interested in your opinion of this product or others like it.”

Doreen shared this experience:

“I have been taking this memory supplement [Prevagen] for over three months now and am seeing no results. I am wondering if it works for all?  In fact, if anything, my short term [memory] seems worse.  I would be interested to see something on this in your column.”

What’s the Story on Prevagen?

This supplement is derived from a protein found in jellyfish.

One television commercial states:

“The breakthrough in Prevagen helps your brain, allowing you to stay as sharp as possible…Powered by an ingredient originally discovered in jellyfish, Prevagen is clinically shown to improve short term memory. Prevagen, a name to remember.”

Another commercial states:

“Can a protein originally found in a jellyfish improve your memory? Our scientists say yes. Researchers have discovered a protein that actually supports healthier brain function. It’s the breakthrough in a supplement called Prevagen. As we age, we lose proteins that support our brain. Prevagen supplements these proteins and has been clinically shown to improve memory. It’s safe and effective. For support of healthier brain function, a sharper mind and clearer thinking, try Prevagen today.”

What’s in Prevagen?

The key ingredient appears to be something called apoaequorin.

The company states:

“The use of apoaequorin, which was originally discovered in jellyfish, is patented by Quincy Bioscience for use in a variety of products to support cognitive function. In a computer assessed, double blinded, placebo controlled clinical study, Prevagen improved certain aspects of cognitive function over a 90 day period.*”

The asterisk at the end of that paragraph is associated with the following message:

“* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

What Does the Research Reveal?

We found a clinical trial in the National Library of Medicine in a journal called Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, Winter, 2016. The Title is “Effects of a Supplement Containing Apoaequorin on Verbal Learning in Older Adults in the Community.”

Their conclusions:

“The results indicated a strong relationship between apoaequorin and improvements on a quantitative measure of cognitive function, specifically verbal learning. The study found that apoaequorin is a well-tolerated supplement that improved cognitive function in aging adults. The results suggest potential utility for apoaequorin in addressing the declines in cognitive function associated with aging.”

Quincy Bioscience conducted this research, the so-called Madison Memory Study. Read further for our description of the controversy.

What Did the Federal Trade Commission Say?

On its website the FTC released the following statement (January 9, 2017):

“The Federal Trade Commission and New York State Attorney General have charged the marketers of the dietary supplement Prevagen with making false and unsubstantiated claims that the product improves memory, provides cognitive benefits, and is ‘clinically shown’ to work.

“The extensive national advertising campaign for Prevagen, including TV spots on national broadcast and cable networks such as CNN, Fox News, and NBC, featured charts depicting rapid and dramatic improvement in memory for users of the product. In fact, the complaint alleges, the marketers relied on a study that failed to show that Prevagen works better than a placebo on any measure of cognitive function.”

“The marketers of Prevagen preyed on the fears of older customers experiencing age-related memory loss,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But one critical thing these marketers forgot is that their claims need to be backed up by real scientific evidence.”

The FTC was seeking refunds for customers who purchased the pricey pills. The company, Quincy Bioscience, disagreed with the FTC and maintained that the complaint was unfounded and inaccurate.

According to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman:

“The marketing for Prevagen is a clear-cut fraud, from the label on the bottle to the ads airing across the country. It’s particularly unacceptable that this company has targeted vulnerable citizens like seniors in its advertising for a product that costs more than a week’s groceries, but provides none of the health benefits that it claims.”

How Did the Company Respond to These Accusations?

Quincy Bioscience released the following statement in response to the FTC and New York Attorney General:

“We vehemently disagree with these allegations made by only two FTC commissioners. This case is another example of government overreach and regulators extinguishing innovation by imposing arbitrary new rules on small businesses like ours.

“Prevagen is safe. Neither the FTC nor the New York Attorney General has alleged that Prevagen can cause or has caused harm to anyone. And hundreds of thousands people tell us it works and improves their lives…

“Quincy has amassed a large body of evidence that Prevagen improves memory and supports healthy brain function. This evidence includes preclinical rat studies, canine studies, human clinical studies, and, most importantly, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical testing. This type of testing has long been acknowledged by both the FTC and the FDA to be the ‘gold standard’ for scientific evidence.

“The FTC does not allege that Quincy’s principal clinical study fails to meet the FTC’s and FDA’s own definition of ‘gold standard,’ nor does the FTC allege that the study was poorly designed or inappropriately conducted, or that it failed to rely on scientifically-validated measures.

“The sole dispute rests on the interpretation and analysis of the data, with the regulators attempting to hold the company to a standard that is unreasonable, scientifically debatable, and legally invalid. Their experts simply disagree with ours over how to interpret the study results. The FTC should not be the arbiter in matters of scientific debate. We are proud of the work we have done to support Prevagen’s effects and believe our large body of evidence clearly satisfies the longstanding standard to support such claims.”

The Dismissal of the Lawsuit:

In the legal battle between Quincy Bioscience and the FTC and the New York Attorney General, the maker of Prevagen prevailed. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit on September 28th, 2017. However, as you read above, the FTC appealed that decision and brought the case before a jury.

According to the blog Natural Products Insider by Josh Long, the key issue in the lawsuit had to do with an interpretation of the results from the “Madison Memory Study.” This double-blind, placebo-controlled study provided the basis for advertising statements made by Quincy Bioscience about Prevagen.

According to Natural Products Insider:

“Although the study failed to show any statistically significant results for the study population as a whole, statistically significant results were identified among certain subgroups.

“In one subgroup, for example, participants showed statistically significant improvements over individuals who received the placebo in three of nine tasks: measuring memory; psychomotor function; and visual learning.”

“…But in granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss the federal claims, the judge found the lawsuit neglected ‘to do more than point to possible sources of error but cannot allege that any actual errors occurred.’

“…The complaint, the judge concluded, failed to demonstrate ‘reliance upon the subgroup data ‘is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances,’ as is necessary to state its claim.'”

A spokesman for Quincy Bioscience remarked:

“We are pleased with the decision and we continue to believe that we have presented substantial scientific support for the claims made in advertising for Prevagen.”

People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

You will no doubt continue to see commercials for Prevagen on television. After the court dismissed the lawsuit, the company continued to sell this product. We don’t know how the most recent jury findings will affect the FTC’s enforcement of commercials the company may air.

A recent review by scientists unaffiliated with the company concluded:

“Currently, there is no compelling evidence for use of apoaequorin, coenzyme Q10, coffee extracts, L-theanine, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B6, vitamin B9, or vitamin B12 supplementation for memory” (CNS Drugs, Sep. 2023).

Learn More:

In the meantime, if you would like to learn about other things you can do to maintain cognitive function, you might appreciate an interview we conducted with a neuroscientist. Show # 1061: Which Popular Drugs Can Do Unexpected Harm?

Murali Doraiswamy, MD, is Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at Duke University Health System. He is a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and directs a clinical trials unit that has developed products to treat neurological disorders. Dr. Doraiswamy is co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan. In addition, he has served as an advisor to leading government agencies, healthcare businesses, and patient advocacy groups.

Another interview that we think might be very helpful is Show #1092: How Can You Overcome Alzheimer Disease?

Dale Bredesen, MD, conducts research on aging and neurodegenerative diseases. He was Professor of Neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles and was founding President and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Dr. Bredesen wrote The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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  • Hersant H et al, "Over the counter supplements for memory: A review of available evidence." CNS Drugs, Sep. 2023. DOI: 10.1007/s40263-023-01031-6
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