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Do 'memory-boosting' supplements work?

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It’s natural to want to avoid memory loss with age, and the many supplements being touted out there are tempting.

Today, one can easily find supplements that may include gingko biloba, vitamin E or fish oil that claim to help with brain power or memory. The claims are attractive but do these “brain boosters” work?

“We often encounter people with complaints of memory or cognitive decline turning to nutraceuticals, vitamins and other supplements in the hope of improving their memory and cognitive performance,” said Associate Professor Philip Yap, senior consultant and director of the geriatric centre at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. However, there is no robust research evidence that shows that these are effective in boosting memory or preventing dementia, he said.

Associate Professor Reshma Merchant, head and senior consultant at the division of geriatric medicine at National University Hospital, said: “I wouldn’t recommend taking supplements just to prevent dementia because a lot of the association has been with actual food products, rather than with supplements.”

While vitamin B12 has been proven to help memory, it is useful only for those who are deficient in it, such as diabetics who are taking Metformin (a medicine used to treat Type 2 diabetes) and vegans, she said.

If cognitive deficits are persistent and affect daily functioning, it is best to undergo an early assessment by a medical practitioner, advised Prof Yap.

So far, medical research supports good lifestyle habits in regular physical exercise, mental and social engagement, a healthy and balanced diet with adequate sleep, and avoiding harmful habits such as smoking and excessive drinking, said Prof Yap.

He urged people to keep learning something new as they age, to stay socially connected and engage in physical exercise.

Joyce Teo

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