Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to nootropics.
Prevagen is a popular over-the-counter (OTC) nootropic supplement, and the brand claims it's the #1 recommended memory supplement by pharmacists. Its active ingredient is a synthetically-derived protein that’s found in jellyfish, called apoaequorin.
In this article we’ll analyze the ingredients in Prevagen based on medical research to give our take on whether the supplement is likely to be effective. We'll highlight some questionable business practices and legal issues faced by the brand, and share our thoughts on whether the pills are likely to cause side effects.
Prevagen Ingredient Review
The most popular version of Prevagen, called Prevagen Regular Strength, contains one of the simpler formulations we’ve reviewed on Illuminate Health. It only contains two active ingredients: apoaequorin at a 10 milligram (mg) dose and Vitamin D3 at a 50 microgram (mcg) dose.
Apoaequorin is a protein derived from jellyfish. A medical review published in The Consultant Pharmacist journal found that this ingredient at the dose in Prevagen Regular Strength improved verbal learning and memory recall measures. The sponsor of the Prevagen clinical trial was the manufacturer of Prevagen, which adds the potential for bias. The manufacturer is called Quincy Bioscience.
We will consider this ingredient potentially effective for nootropic function and memory improvement, however we cannot say so conclusively with only one manufacturer-funded study.
Vitamin D is the only other active ingredient. Medical research shows that low levels of Vitamin D are associated with accelerated cognitive decline, but we haven't come across any studies proving that Vitamin D supplementation in healthy adults without Vitamin D deficiency improves cognition.
It seems logical to test first for Vitamin D deficiency, and only supplement with the vitamin if a deficiency is found, rather than to take the vitamin without first determining blood levels.
This supplement also contains added sugar as an inactive ingredient, which we consider to be a questionable choice for a memory supplement given that added sugar intake is associated with cognitive impairment, based on a medical review from 2016.
The amount of added sugar in Prevagen is likely low, but we recommend avoiding added sugar entirely, especially from dietary supplements.
Overall we consider Prevagen Regular Strength to be potentially effective for improving memory, but we would not recommend the supplement due to the inclusion of added sugar, a vitamin at a relatively high dose, and because its main active ingredient only appears to be backed by one company-funded trial.
Questionable Business Practices
When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected Prevagen’s manufacturing facility, they found that the company didn’t have the required quality controls in place to ensure product quality. An 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 contained the stated ingredients at the stated doses.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued Prevagen's manufacturer for deceptive advertising, and the case appears to be ongoing.
One of the most damning allegations about Prevagen in the above-linked lawsuit is that the company may not have been reporting cases of severe customer injury to the FDA, which is a requirement. Some of their users were alleged to be experiencing an increase in seizures after taking Prevagen.
The FTC lawsuit alleges that Prevagen's claims of being "clinically shown" to work are false and unsubstantiated.
We also consider Prevagen’s claim of “#1 Pharmacist-Recommended Brand” to be questionable, given that Prevagen's manufacturer sponsored an article in the Pharmacy Times titled "Pharmacists' Guide to Reocmmending Prevagen."
In light of all of this information, we would recommend avoiding all Prevagen products.
Prevagen Side Effects
Prevagen links out to three safety studies on their website about apoaequorin. All three are animal studies.
While animal studies are useful for determining toxicity, we would not consider a compound proven to be safe based on animal studies alone.
One of the animal studies cited by Prevagen found no adverse effects when apoaequorin was administered at doses far higher than in Prevagen.
The FDA warning letter referenced in the previous section documented over 1,000 adverse events that were reported while taking Prevagen, including heart arrhythmias, chest pain and vertigo.
We would not necessarily assume that these reported side effects were caused by Prevagen, because there will be user complaints for any supplement with millions of users. Even placebo pills can cause side effects, which is why placebo-controlled studies with human participants are so important. Only side effects experienced above placebo rates are considered to be legitimate.
The human trial on Prevagen reported no serious adverse events, and no higher side effect rate than the placebo group, but there were only 218 total participants in the trial.
We do not consider Prevagen likely to cause side effects based on the available data, but we would urge the company to fund more human trials that are placebo-controlled to further prove the safety of their supplement.
At the time of updating this article, Prevagen is significantly cheaper on Amazon than on the manufacturer website.
Prevagen Regular Strength costs $31.96 on Amazon and $39.95 on their website, which represents a 20% cost savings on Amazon.
Prevagen Extra Strength costs $47.96 on Amazon and $59.95 on their website, which represents a 20% cost savings on Amazon.
The best prices for this supplement appear to be available on Amazon.
Prevagen Extra Strength Review
Prevagen sells a more potent version of their supplement called Prevagen Extra Strength. It contains twice the apoaequorin dose (20 mg) as Prevagen Regular Strength.
We would not recommend this supplement and consider its formulation to be inferior to Prevagen Regular Strength, because the dose in Prevagen Regular Strength is the dose that was used in the clinical trial on this ingredient.
While this supplement may be effective for memory enhancement, we cannot recommend it because we can't locate any medical studies proving the safety and efficacy of apoaequorin at a 20 mg dose. This supplement also contains added sugar and a relatively high dose of Vitamin D, both ingredients we recommend avoiding for reasons outlined in the previous ingredient review section.
Prevagen Real User Review
A Prevagen review on YouTube that is published by a channel called "Lori Alcorn" and the creator shares her experience taking Prevagen for memory enhancement. The review appears unsponsored:
Prevagen Vs. Neuriva
Neuriva is another popular nootropic supplement, so consumers are often curious about which is the better option. We reviewed Neuriva extensively in a separate Illuminate Health review, and we would recommend it over Prevagen (though we don't recommend either supplement).
Neuriva Original and Neuriva Plus both contain two effective nootropic ingredients that are clinically proven to work, and both of which have more research backing than we could find than the active ingredient in Prevagen.
And while Neuriva has also faced a lawsuit over health claims they made on their website, we consider Prevagen's business practices to be more questionable overall in light of both FDA and FTC actions.
Our Recommended Nootropic Supplements
There are herbal supplements which are proven in medical literature to be effective for cognitive enhancement and memory function.
Ginkgo biloba extract is arguably the most well-studied nootropic supplement apart from caffeine. It’s derived from the leaves of a tree native to China, and has been proven to improve memory, cognition and focus in hundreds of published medical research studies.
Ginkgo biloba has not only been shown effective in older adults (the population that most nootropic studies are conducted on), but also in young, healthy adults which is impressive. A medical review published in the Psychopharmacology journal found ginkgo biloba supplementation to improve attention and cognitive performance in healthy, young adults.
Illuminate Labs manufactures a ginkgo biloba extract supplement that's potent (standardized to minimum 24% flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones) and third-party tested to ensure purity and label accuracy.
Interested consumers can check out Illuminate Labs Ginkgo Biloba Extract at this link.
Panax ginseng extract is another well-studied nootropic supplement. A 2013 clinical trial found that ginseng extract supplementation improved memory and short-term cognitive function.
Illuminate Labs manufactures a panax ginseng extract supplement that's potent (standardized to minimum 8% ginsenosides) and third-party tested to ensure purity and label accuracy.
Interested consumers can check out Illuminate Labs Panax Ginseng Extract at this link.
Prevagen Amazon Reviews
Prevagen Regular Strength has been reviewed over 9,000 times on Amazon, and has an average review rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars.
The product receives a "D" grade from Fakespot, which is a software tool that detects potentially fraudulent Amazon reviews. Fakespot's "Adjusted Rating" is 2 out of 5 stars.
The top positive review of Prevagen from a verified purchaser comes from a user named "Rosemary S." who claims that the supplement is effective:
"I am starting to have memory issues and I believe prevargen is helpful. I don't use it all the time but if I want to feel more secure with my memory for a certain occasion I rely on Prevagen."
The top negative review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "Victor from Tx" who claims that the supplement has questionable ingredients:
"On receipt, I noticed that the bulk of the supplement is vitamin D which can be procured at a much lower price. The so called active ingredient is apoaequorin for which the consensus in the articles I read, is that it is digested in the stomach and does not reach the brain. Given that very little, if any, makes it to the brain, I thought that the potential side effects relative to the benefits (near zero) makes this supplement one that I should be avoiding."
Prevagen Pros and Cons
Here's our take on the pros and cons of Prevagen overall as a brand.
- Potentially effective
- Legitimate clinical trial with favorable results
- Side effects unlikely
- Contains added sugar
- Contains relatively high vitamin dose which may be unnecessary
- Received FDA warning letter
- Sued by FTC for misleading claims
- Questionable Amazon reviews