Article edited for scientific accuracy by Illuminate Labs Blog Editor Taylor Graber MD
One of the most popular nootropic supplements on the market is called Prevagen, which claims to improve memory. Its active ingredient is a synthetically-derived protein that’s found in jellyfish, called apoaequorin.
In this article we’ll analyze the formulation of Prevagen based on medical research to determine if it’s likely to be effective. We’ll also offer some research-based alternative supplements for memory.
Prevagen Ingredients Review
The base version of Prevagen, called Prevagen Regular Strength, contains one of the simpler formulations we’ve reviewed. It only contains two active ingredients: apoaequorin at 10 mg and Vitamin D3 at 50 mcg.
Apoaequorin is a strange choice for a memory-enhancing product, because this protein derived from jellyfish has not been very well studied prior to Prevagen’s launch. There are many other ingredients and herbs with significantly more research backing their nootropic (memory-enhancing) function.
We can’t find one single medical study suggesting this ingredient is effective for memory loss that wasn’t funded by the manufacturer of Prevagen.
It’s also strange to include 250% of the Daily Value (DV) of Vitamin D for seemingly no reason. If this vitamin doesn’t enhance the memory-supporting effects of apoaequorin (which Prevagen publishes no research suggesting it does), then why is it included?
It’s irresponsible for supplement manufacturers to contain random doses of fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin D3 which accumulate in the body. This dose is probably safe, but if a consumer were to take this dose and also a separate Vitamin D3 supplement they could be reaching Vitamin D levels that are too high.
Prevagen also includes many filler ingredients, one of which is added sugar. There is no reason to include added sugar, no matter how small the dose, in a health supplement. Added sugar is one of the compounds we know from medical studies to be harmful to human health in excess.
Overall we find this to be an ineffective formulation for enhancing memory.
Prevagen contains a Research section on their site where they publish studies of their product.
The one study testing whether Prevagen improves memory, called the Madison Memory Study, was sponsored by the parent company Quincy Bioscience, so its data should be assumed to be biased.
The “principal investigator” listed in the “study” is someone working for the parent company.
Even so, the study had unimpressive results. It failed to show statistically significant improvements in the majority of the cognitive parameters tested for. Truth in Advertising, a non-profit organization that fights deceptive marketing, published a summary of the results, and achieved approval for a class-action settlement based on Prevagen's misleading claims.
The safety studies on apoaequorin appear to be higher quality than the efficacy study. One such study measured the toxicology of apoaequorin at levels much higher than that included in Prevagen and found no evidence of toxicity or harm.
There's not much evidence suggesting that Prevagen is actively harmful, but we don't believe there is enough research to suggest it’s effective.
Deceptive Business Practices
When the FDA inspected Prevagen’s manufacturing facility, they found that the company didn’t have the required quality controls in place to ensure product quality. The FDA warning letter states that Prevagen’s manufacturing facility “failed to establish release criteria for several manufacturing steps where control is necessary to ensure that specifications for identity, purity, strength and composition are met”.
In layman’s terms this means Prevagen wasn't ensuring that the products they sold were what they said they were; they seem to have just been manufacturing supplements with no testing after to ensure the supplements were safe and accurately labeled.
The Federal Trade Commission has sued Quincy Biocience (the holding company behind Prevagen) for deceptive advertising, and the case appears to be ongoing because there was a case update on June 29, 2021.
One of the most damning facts about Prevagen is that they were not reporting cases of severe user injury to the FDA, which is a requirement. Some of their users were having a significant increase in seizure after taking their products.
This proves beyond a reasonable doubt that this is an unethical company that doesn’t care at all about the safety of their consumers in our opinion, and this information was revealed in a fantastic Wired exposé covering the deceptive practices of Prevagen.
We also find Prevagen’s claim of “#1 Pharmacist-Recommended Brand” to be deceiving. They paid for an article in the Pharmacy Times promoting their product, so this “recommendation” seems sponsored. If a supplement company paid a bunch of doctors to recommend their product, and the doctors did so, this would not entail an honest and objective recommendation to their patients; it would represent a business agreement.
Better Alternatives for Memory
There are plenty of natural compounds which have significantly more research backing their efficacy for improving memory than Prevagen.
Caffeine from coffee is probably the cheapest option. A meta-review from the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that coffee consumption was able to attenuate cognitive decline and memory loss. Coffee consumption of 3-5 cups at mid-life was associated with a 65% decreased risk of dementia at later life.
The 65% figure comes from a population study so it’s not conclusive, but it’s still strong evidence in our opinion. We recommend plain black coffee, because creamers and added sugar can be harmful for health.
Ginseng is an herbal supplement that may be effective for memory enhancement, but more research is needed. A medical trial found that ginseng provided superior cognitive effects (many of which were memory-related) than a pharmaceutical drug.
Another medical review examined the effects of ginseng supplementation on cognition. Three of the four included studies found significant improvements to memory in the ginseng extract group.
Bacopa monnieri is another herbal supplement with medical research backing its efficacy for memory. A medical trial found that 300 mg daily of bacopa extract “produced significant effect on some components of memory” after only 6 weeks of population, and the study participants were a high-functioning cognitive group (young medical students), which makes the results even more impressive.
A medical review of bacopa for memory analyzed 6 studies on the topic and found that bacopa’s core cognitive enhancement was in memory free recall.
Prevagen is a poorly-formulated product sold by a company that seems to be actively deceptive.
We strongly recommend against purchasing any products this company sells. Even though we don’t believe Prevagen to be harmful based on its formulation, we don’t believe it to be effective and investigative journalism has found the company to be manufacturing supplements in unacceptable conditions.
There are foods and supplements with more research backing their efficacy in memory improvements, the cheapest being plain black coffee. Panax ginseng extract and bacopa monnieri extract are two promising herbal supplements for memory.