Does Prevagen Improve Memory Loss?

by Amylee Amos MS, RDN, IFMCPNews
Box and bottle of Prevagen supplement

If you watch TV, you’ve likely seen countless commercials for the supplement, Prevagen. In fact, the only commercials that seem to run more often than Prevagen are the never ending barrage of ads for personal injury lawyers. The heavily marketed Prevagen ads make some pretty incredible claims, including that Prevagen makes a “healthier brain” and “improves memory.” Most of the ads feature happy older adults who smile as they explain how Prevagen made their minds sharper and improved their life while B roll shows them living active outdoorsy lifestyles. For the millions of middle aged and older Americans watching these commercials, it seems almost like a dream come true: take Prevagen- just one pill each morning and you will keep your brain young and healthy. 

Yet often, the things that seem too good to be true usually are. So is there any truth to Prevagen’s fairy tale? Does Prevagen improve memory loss? Is Prevagen safe? Members of our community have raised these questions, so I looked into this and I want to give you my opinions and some straight answers about this supplement. I never could have imagined what I would find by looking deeper into the history and efficacy of this supplement. The story of Prevagen exemplifies everything that is wrong with the nutrition and supplement world. It exemplifies everything that is wrong with humankind. Prevagen’s story is one of corruption, greed, and exploitation. 

Is Prevagen Safe?

According to the Prevagen website, Prevagen is made from apoaequorin, a compound discovered in 1960 that is naturally occurring in jellyfish. In 2004 a biotechnology company called Quincy Bioscience was formed to study apoaequorin and its potential use in brain health. The company was founded by a 30 year old man named Mark Underwood. To give you a glimpse into what kind of a man Mark Underwood is, his life’s ambition as written under his senior photo in high school is “to make a totally obnoxious amount of money at an early age and spend the rest of my life spending it.” Those are the words of the guy who makes Prevagen. 

Quincy Bioscience makes the highly grandiose claims that Prevagen can improve your memory and give you a better life. They also claim that there are no known adverse side effects and state that the supplement is completely safe. It sounds incredible when taken at face value, and unfortunately, millions of people have taken Prevagen, and as of 2017, sales of Prevagen had already exceeded $165 million. 

Yet Prevagen neither improves your memory nor will it give you a better life. In fact, it can seriously hurt you both physically and emotionally. Most people assume that a supplement that’s sold in stores or online is safe and effective. They assume that just like pharmaceutical drugs, which go through rigorous testing, so do dietary supplements. But this is not the case. Manufacturers of dietary supplements do not need to demonstrate to any regulatory agency that their supplements are safe for consumers to use prior to being sold. Rather the FDA relies on the supplement companies themselves to test the safety and efficacy of their products before being brought to market, and intervenes only when significant issues are reported, often years after a product has been on the market. 

The one caveat to that, is that supplement companies do need to prove the safety of a product that is considered a “new dietary ingredient” meaning one that was not used before this regulation was put into effect in 1994. Apoaequorin is a compound found in jellyfish that has never been used in supplements before Prevagen, meaning that the makers of Prevagen would have needed to go through the process to prove its safety before Prevagen was sold. However, Underwood argued that because jellyfish are consumed by humans in the diet, apoaequorin is not a new ingredient and thus did not need to provide evidence for its safety. He failed to mention that the amount of apoaequorin found in just one dose of Prevagen is equal to the amount that would be consumed if you ate 400-800 pounds of raw jellyfish. Though FDA toxicologists noticed this gross manipulation of these facts and the potential harm that Prevagen may cause, Prevegen had already been on the market by the time the FDA filed a letter prohibiting the sale of Prevagen. And despite receiving both the FDA letter and subsequent warnings, Quincy Biosense continues to sell Prevagen. 

Probably because of the massive cost of needing to harvest billions of jellyfish to procure enough apoaequorin to manufacture Prevagen, Quincy Bioscience makes and uses a synthetic form of apoaequorin to make Prevagen. Because of this, Prevagen fits more into the category of a pharmaceutical than a dietary supplement. Pharmaceuticals go through far more rigorous testing by the FDA compared to supplements. In 2007, when asked why he chose to sell Prevagen as a dietary supplement rather than a pharmaceutical, Underwood replied, “we didn't want to wait another 10 years—the time it could take to conduct clinical trials and request approval as a drug.”

So Underwood and Quincy Bioscience made Prevagen a supplement to quickly line their own pockets. But even more frightening is that they withheld serious reports of adverse events from the FDA and downright lied to the public about the safety of taking Prevagen. The FDA relies on the supplement companies themselves to report safety concerns. That’s a major problem when greedy narcissists are in charge of a supplement company like in the case of Prevagen. According to WIRED, “when FDA inspectors showed up at Quincy Bioscience’s Madison headquarters in 2011, they found records of “more than 1,000 adverse events and product complaints” that had been reported to the company since May 2008. Only two adverse events had been relayed to the FDA or investigated further by Quincy. In an inspection report known as a Form 483, which documents significant potential violations, or “observations,” investigators listed 18 cases that Quincy had decided not to classify as serious and didn’t share with the FDA. They included five reports of seizures, three of strokes or mini-strokes, and four of vertigo, dizziness, or falling that merited medical attention.” I highly recommend you read the full article in WIRED to see the deep research they did on this matter. 

There were also blatant cutting of corners with the actual production and manufacturing of Prevagen, with FDA inspectors citing major quality control issues and possible contamination. The inspectors noted problems such as the final product not being checked for quality, contaminated product not being properly investigated and discarded, and product returned from customers being resent out to other customers without first ensuring its condition.  The FDA reviewed the inspections and submitted information for apoaequorin and concluded that “it was not considered safe.” Despite this, Prevagen continues to be sold. 

Can Prevagen Improve Memory Loss?

The Prevagen website touts that Prevagen has been shown to clinically improve memory after using their product for 90 days. Yet if you actually look at the study they refer to, the improvements are not statistically significant. In other words, the results of the study were manipulated to show an improvement. If you look at the whole population that they tested, there is no statistically significant improvement over taking a placebo. This is highly unethical and disingenuous. Unfortunately, nobody ever goes to actually read the study that companies use to bolster their claims. Crooks like Underwood know this. 

To answer the question: No, Prevagen does not improve memory loss. To say that it does is a lie. The research clearly shows that it does not, unless you cherry pick and manipulate the data. 

What breaks my heart is that Prevagen targets the most vulnerable of our society. Memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease are absolutely terrifying. People will stop at nothing to stave off cognitive decline- including shelling out thousands of dollars to take a supplement that they think will help. But not only will Prevagen not help, it might seriously hurt you and it was created by a man who wants nothing more than to make boatloads of money. If he makes that money at your expense, my guess is he’s not losing any sleep about it. 

Multiple lawsuits were filed against Prevagen for their misleading customers. The FTC and attorney general both filed lawsuits to stop the claims that Prevagen can improve memory. Despite some class action settlements, the financial and physical damages of many cannot be remedied. And countless more will continue to take Prevagen because it continues to be sold. 

The story of Prevagen is infuriating to me. Selling this product shouldn’t be allowed in my opinion, yet somehow, it is. People like Underwood will seemingly stop at nothing to make money, and innocent people pay the price. Prevagen didn’t exist when my own grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but I have no doubt that if it had existed, we would have tried it. We would have tried anything. It breaks my heart to think of the many people like her who are taking this supplement now- full of false hope, wasting their money, and possibly experiencing adverse effects. 

I wish I had the answer or some way to make this better, but I don’t. All I can say is you should all spread the word about Prevagen. And when it comes to your brain health, be careful with who you take your health advice from. There is no silver bullet when it comes to fighting memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Dale Bredesen and many other scientists, researchers and medical doctors have spent their careers developing protocols to help people improve their brain health and you should consider your sources when looking for ways to improve your health. Someone who describes their goal as, “to make a totally obnoxious amount of money at an early age and spend the rest of my life spending it” is probably not the best place to get your medical advice.