Do Brain Pills Really Work?

December 8, 2014

Brain Pills

They go by a variety of names - memory enhancers, focus enhancing supplements, or sometimes just "brain pills" - pills and supplements which make a variety of claims about improving your mental and cognitive abilities. 

These types of pills and supplements are increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons. In the United States, the Baby Boomer Generation makes up a very large segment of the population which is currently aging and may be interested in supplements to improve general memory loss and brain function, while others may be more invested in preventing illnesses like Dementia and Alzheimer's. 

The younger generations are interested in these supplements and pills as well, mostly due to a competitive college atmosphere and a workforce that is requiring entry level workers to do more over longer hours to distinguish themselves from their coworkers to move forward. 

But these supplements and pills raise many questions. What are the potential side effects of using these kinds of pills? What effective ingredients should you be looking for? Are there any natural alternatives? And most importantly - do these types of pills and supplements even work?

What Works?

Unfortunately only a very few drugs have been shown in medical studies to improve mental focus, cognition, and memory, and these are pharmaceutical drugs that require a doctor's prescription. Primarily these drugs are only prescribed to people who have been diagnosed with conditions such as Alzheimer's and ADHD.

Many of these drugs are used "off label" by people who don't have a diagnosable condition but are looking for the benefits these drugs might provide. Unsupervised use of prescription drugs can be extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. 

Natural Alternatives:

People who are wisely avoiding experimenting with off label prescription drugs will be looking for natural alternatives and supplements that provide similar benefits. To this end, there are a wide variety of supplements and products available that rely on natural ingredients, including:

These supplements feature well known and well publicized ingredients, like Gingko Biloba, Bacopa Monnieri, DMAE, Panax Ginseng, Xanthines, and a variety of vitamins, and proteins, depending on their specific formulations. 

The reality is that even the most well known of these ingredients has never been proven without a doubt to improve your memory, focus, or other cognitive abilities, despite what some products claim.

Many of these ingredients have been shown to work in some studies, and then just as quickly shown to not work in other studies. The only one of these ingredients that seems to work consistently are the Xanthines, the base of many well known stimulants like caffeine. 

Side Effects:

Most popular natural ingredients, like Gingko Biloba and Panax Ginseng, have no known side effects and are not considered supplements to which people are likely to become addicted. 

Stimulants, on the other hand, including pills which just have high levels of caffeine or those which include additional stimulants, do have higher incidences of side effects - like jitteriness, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and more - as well as higher rates of addiction and overdose. People will have different sensitivities to stimulants and users who experience any side effects should discontinue use of that product immediately. 

How to Avoid Scams:

In the United States, dietary supplements and similar health products do not require any efficacy or safety approval before being sold on the open market, which creates the ideal circumstances for people and companies to make unsubstantiated claims about their products and what they can do. 

To avoid being scammed when looking for "brain pills," customers should look for products that openly disclose all ingredients and dosages of those ingredients. In addition, be wary of products that make emphatic claims, "guaranteeing" certain results and health benefits that seem excessive. 

Another thing to always look for when evaluating health products, especially those being purchased online, is billing practices. Companies that offer a small - or no - period of time for returns and refunds, or that automatically enroll you in an autoship program that charges you repeatedly should be looked at twice. These practices are common in "fly by night" companies that look to sell a large amount of product and then disappear once they get enough negative reviews online.

Customers that are really interested in finding something that works for them should either consult with their physician or consider going directly to a health and wellness store, where they can speak with employees about products that are well liked and well regarded in the industry and by their customers.

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