Fad: We’ve been hearing about the seeming magical powers of these essential fatty acids for a while now. But the science is complicated: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly those called EPA and DHA, are essential for normal brain function. But dietary supplements aren’t a quick fix. “It takes two and a half years to build up an adequate supply of omega-3s in your brain cells. You may need to take them before symptoms of memory loss begin,” says Richard Isaacson, M.D., founder of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “And you can’t just go and buy a bottle of fish oil and call it good. For age-related memory loss, you need 900 milligrams daily of DHA.”
Nootropics or 'Smart Drugs'
Fail: The brain-health supplement market is poised to top $11.6 billion by 2024. One of the hottest categories is nootropics, or “smart drugs,” aimed at older adults. An example is Prevagen, a dietary supplement derived from a protein in jellyfish, often advertised on TV as a memory enhancer. The New York state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued the manufacturers and charged the company with fraud. Experts say that supplements like these can have adverse side effects and bad reactions with prescription medicines.
Fail: What if you could zap your brain with an electrical current to improve your memory, learn to play piano or master a foreign language?
You can try commercial headset devices such as Halo and Foc.us — but don’t get your hopes up. A study published in Experimental Brain Research in 2016 found that people who got such treatments performed worse on cognitive tests than those getting fake treatments. And possible negative side effects include dizziness, as well as altered sight, hearing or taste.
Fix: To flavor your coffee, swirl in a tablespoon of pure dark cocoa powder. One study published in Nature Neuroscience found that taking high doses (900 mg) of cocoa flavonols daily for three months improved brain function. Sixty-year-olds then performed pattern recognition tests as well as people half their age.
Fix: We have new insight into why older adults in India have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease: The secret is in the (curry) sauce. Curcumin, the anti-inflammatory substance that gives curry its vibrant hue, improves brain health. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found memory and attention improvements in adults ages 51 to 84 who consumed 90 mg of curcumin twice daily for 18 months. PET scans showed healthier brains, too. “When you cook with it,” Isaacson says, “you can absorb it and have a lot of it over your lifetime — and it probably protects the brain.” Don’t want to eat curry every day? You can also try a highly absorbable supplement such as Theracurmin, which was taken by subjects in the UCLA study and, Isaacson says, is likely even more effective than curcumin.
NICK FERRARI PHOTOGRAPHY
Can the Paleo diet help you drop pounds?
What will give you a slim, fit physique?
Fad: Paleo advocates argue that evolution points us to a diet similar to that of caveman times — unprocessed meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. From a short-term perspective, research has shown good results from the paleo diet. The catch? Excluding dairy, grains and beans means people may not get enough calcium, vitamin D and fiber, all important for older adults. For those reasons, the panel for U.S. News and World Report’s annual Best Diet survey gave the paleo diet low scores.
Cleanses and Detox Diets
Fail: The Master Cleanse — 10 days of consuming nothing but a lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne concoction plus a nightly laxative — was conceived as a detox process, but it and comparable plans have evolved into crash diets. Will you lose weight? Sure. But it would be temporary and highly risky. Remember: Between your liver, kidneys and other organs, your body is already well-designed to detoxify itself.
Fail: Remember the Atkins diet? Similar plans are again popular. Keto diets — with most calories from fats and some from protein — force your body to draw fuel from stored fat, rather than from blood sugar derived from carbs. Any diet that limits bread or sugar will help you lose weight. But a 2017 analysis concluded that maintaining weight loss “is a major problem,” and the benefits seen with keto diets are “usually limited in time.”
Weight-Loss Supplements and Teas
Fail: Alas, there is no magic pill. The National Institutes of Health says the science behind claims for supplements is “inconclusive and unconvincing.” This includes herbal teas that promote weight loss but accomplish it through diuretic water loss, not fat loss.
Fix: A permanent diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, with an occasional glass of red wine, is the healthy way to lose weight and keep it off. Even better: A new study found that older adults who follow this diet had higher mental function.
Fix: In a 2013 Mayo Clinic study, overweight adults on a yearlong incentive program that included a chance of winning a “bonus pool” lost nearly four times as much weight as people who had no financial carrot.