Unproven Alzheimer’s Medications Could Be Harmful to Health

Alzheimer's medications

Beware of unproven Alzheimer’s medications

Advertisements for Alzheimer’s medications or “miracle cures” are everywhere, especially on the Internet.

These herbal remedies, dietary supplements and “medical foods” are promoted as safe, “natural” treatments that enhance memory or delay or prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia. These false claims are supported only with testimonials and pseudo-science.

The truth is that these are unregulated products sold by unscrupulous companies who prey on vulnerable seniors and families to make a quick buck. It’s important to know that, at this time, there are no medications that can cure Alzheimer’s or stop it from progressing.

The Alzheimer’s Association shares their concerns about the harm these dietary supplements and medical foods could cause.

We’ve summarized 3 key reasons why these unproven Alzheimer’s medications could seriously harm your older adult’s health. We also highlight 8 commonly marketed treatments to be wary of.



3 reasons why unproven Alzheimer’s medications could be harmful

There’s a huge difference between FDA-approved medications versus supplements, neutraceuticals, and “medical food.”

Research or medications based on some of these unproven treatments could potentially be useful in the future, but there are 3 important reasons why it’s best to avoid dementia treatments that aren’t currently FDA-approved.

1. Not proven safe and effective
FDA-approved drugs must go through rigorous review to scientifically prove that they are both safe and effective.

When something is sold as a supplement, neutraceutical, or “medical food” the FDA is not authorized to review them for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. But many supplements contain active ingredients that have strong effects in the body. That could make them unsafe in some situations and harm or complicate your older adult’s health.

2. Serious drug interactions
Dietary supplements can have serious interactions with prescribed medications or reduce their effectiveness. Seniors should never take a new supplement without first speaking with a doctor and having them review all current medications.

3. Unknown ingredients
The FDA oversees the manufacturing process of approved drugs to make sure they contain the ingredients shown on the label in the listed amounts.

Supplements, neutraceuticals, and “medical food” don’t go through strict reviews or quality standards. Nobody could know if the pills truly contain the ingredients shown on the label – the ingredients could even be harmful.


8 unproven Alzheimer’s treatments to be wary of

We share essential facts about 8 unproven treatments that are commonly sold in the U.S., especially on the Internet. These treatments are NOT recommended by most experts, including the Alzheimer’s Association.

If you feel strongly about experimenting with any of these, it’s essential to speak with your older adult’s doctor before adding any supplements or medical foods to their diet.

The number one priority is to not harm their health or reduce the effectiveness of their current prescription medications.

1. Caprylic acid / Axona® / coconut oil
Caprylic acid is found in medical foods like Axona and in coconut oil. Some treatments claim that caprylic acid is an alternate energy source for brain cells that are damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.

Some families say that coconut oil has helped their senior with dementia, but there isn’t conclusive scientific evidence that it works.

2. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10, also called CoQ10 or ubiquinone, is an antioxidant that’s naturally found in the body. It’s unknown what dosage of coenzyme Q10 is considered safe. There could be harmful effects if too much is taken.

It hasn’t been studied as an Alzheimer’s treatment. A synthetic version called idebenone was tested for Alzheimer’s disease, but didn’t show any benefit.

3. Coral calcium
Coral calcium supplements have been heavily marketed as a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other serious health conditions. The claim is that it’s a form of calcium that’s made from shells from coral reefs.

In reality, coral calcium has only traces of additional minerals and is only slightly different from regular calcium supplements. It has no extra health benefits. If your older adult’s doctor has recommended a calcium supplement for bone health, it’s best to buy from a reputable manufacturer.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have already filed formal complaints against companies selling coral calcium. They did this because there’s no reliable scientific evidence that supports the exaggerated health claims and it’s against the law to make those unproven claims.

4. Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba is a plant extract that’s thought to be an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory. It’s thought to to protect cell membranes and regulate neurotransmitter function.

It’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and is currently being used in Europe for cognitive symptoms associated with neurological conditions.

But results of a large, multicenter Phase 3 clinical trial conducted by several branches of the National Institutes of Health showed that ginkgo was not effective in preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease.


5. Huperzine A
Huperzine A (HOOP-ur-zeen) is a moss extract used in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s marketed as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease because it has properties similar to cholinesterase inhibitors, which are a type of FDA-approved Alzheimer’s medications.

In a large-scale U.S. clinical trial of huperzine A as a treatment for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, huperzine A was not better than a placebo (a sugar pill).

The huperzine A that’s currently being sold is unregulated and manufactured with no uniform standards. Taking these dietary supplements could increase the risks of serious side effects, especially if used in combination with FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs.

6. Omega-3 fatty acids
Research has linked certain types of omega-3 fatty acids to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke – DHA and EPA.

Research has also found that a high intake of omega-3s could reduce the risk of dementia or cognitive decline. This might be because omega-3s are good for the heart and blood vessels, have anti-inflammatory effects, and support and protect nerve cell membranes.

However, experts say that more research is needed. There isn’t enough evidence to recommend DHA or any other omega-3 fatty acids to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

7. Phosphatidylserine
Phosphatidylserine ( FOS-fuh-TIE-dil-sair-een) is a kind of fat that’s the primary component of the membranes around nerve cells.

In Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, nerve cells degenerate for unknown reasons. The thinking behind treatment with phosphatidylserine is that it could strengthen the cell membrane and possibly protect cells from degenerating.

However, experts agree that more research is needed and do not currently recommend use of phosphatidylserine.

Be warned that the FDA allows supplements containing very high-quality soy-derived phosphatidylserine to display a “qualified health claim” stating that “Very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly. FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim.” This does NOT mean that it’s FDA approved or that it works.

8. Tramiprosate
Tramiprosate, also known as Alzhemed or ViviMind™, is a modified form of taurine, an amino acid found in seaweed. It currently has no proven benefits.

Tramiprosate was tested in a large Phase 3 clinical study as a possible Alzheimer’s treatment, but the trial results were inconclusive. Then, the manufacturer decided to stop developing it as a prescription drug and instead sell it on the Internet as a “medical food.”


Next Step  Find out more about these unproven Alzheimer’s medications in the full article at Alzheimer’s Association


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Health Awareness Foundation


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Linking Disclaimer: The Alzheimer’s Association is not responsible for information or advice provided by others, including information on websites that link to Association sites and on third party sites to which the Association links. Please direct any questions to weblink@alz.org


  • Reply June 17, 2017


    Thank you so much for sharing this important information. I once knew an elderly man who ordered “Vitamin O” through the mail. Its claim was that there is no longer enough oxygen in the air, so we need to get extra oxygen in the form of pills. This sounds ridiculous to us, but this man was desperate to try anything to protect his mind. Therefore, he became easy prey for an unscrupulous company looking to make money. So sad!

    • Reply June 17, 2017


      Oh no! That’s terrible 🙁 Those shady companies are awful.

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