/ Health

Can you trust products that claim to prevent dementia?

Supplements

Not many days go by without news headlines and scare stories about dementia and our risk of getting it. But, is dementia fear spawning an industry of products we don’t need?

There may be some good in this media hype: after all, the real changes we need to make in reducing our risk of most diseases are around our lifestyle. Yes, that’s a healthy, balanced diet, stopping smoking, avoiding high levels of alcohol.

But many of us will know with a disease like dementia, it can be tempting to try and reduce your risk, by finding out just what sort of shape your brains are in, or by buying products and services that claim to test your brain function or even prevent dementia including Alzheimer’s Disease. But do these products really help?

Testing these product claims

Which? experts – including a dietitian, a GP and a professor of public health medicine – looked at services and products, including food supplements, and concluded that there is no robust evidence that the vitamins, plant extracts and other ‘functional’ ingredients commonly used in these supplements can reduce the risk of dementia.

We found one company’s dementia prevention claims so misleading that we’ve reported them to the Advertising Standards Authority. And another company we believed to be making dodgy claims has apologised and is reviewing its marketing.

Our experts were also sceptical of the online and in person tests and investigations that try to spot mild cognitive (brain) impairment and dementia. Some of these cost as much as £1000 plus.

While testing may identify people with mild cognitive impairment, many wouldn’t go on to develop dementia. These tests can cause untold worry through false positives, and even reassuring wrongly through false negatives. Screening for dementia is not recommended by the UK National Screening Committee.

Dealing with dementia

The truth is that dementia rates are falling. Maybe because we live healthier lives than previous generations. Regardless of the fall in dementia rates, it’s unacceptable that these companies are preying on our fears by making claims that don’t stack up.

We advise that small changes to your lifestyle may make a difference to your dementia risk. Changes such as eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking, avoiding drinking high levels of alcohol, and keeping your brain active. For further information about dementia please visit our free Which? Elderly Care website.

So have you, or a family member or friend, tried to reduce your risk using one of these products or services? Did that product promise better brain health or to prevent or reduce your risk of dementia? Do you think it benefited you in any way?

Comments
Guest
dieseltaylor says:
17 June 2016

Can you trust products that claim to prevent dementia? Obviously the answer is “No”.

It is good that Which? is checking the claims made by various commercial firms.

I am concerned that the article does not mention the two firm’s actual names. If they are sufficiently concerning to Which’s panel surely we can be told?

Particularly If one has been referred to the ASA why not tell us now? When will the ASA ajudicate ? Is it 6 months of dodgy advertising before the public are protected? This particular case has just been referred to trading Standards over 2 years after the original reference to the ASA:
asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2014/2/Topbatterycouk/SHP_ADJ_250327.aspx#.V2OMbqJ2HYg

Enforcement by ASA seems rather puny given that some of the material they deal with is more honestly a straight scam. Looking at this ajudications today it seems a limp lettuce on the wrist is its sanction for scammers.
asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2012/6/Electronic-Healing/SHP_ADJ_194057.aspx#.V2OJu6J2HYg

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

There is a link giving details of the products and manufacturers, DT. I share your concern that companies are able to use unacceptable advertising for months or even years before the ASA rules that its use should stop. I have repeatedly suggested that all new claims are approved by the ASA before they appear in advertising.

Profile photo of John Ward
Guest

Although the actual adjudication and enforcement process that the ASA follows might seem ponderous and inadequate, I believe the very fact of its existence as a regulatory mechanism has a powerful restraining effect on unjustified product claims. I think the responsibility for substantiating the claims made for products should rest with the manufacturers or distributors rather than the ASA. If it were a legal requirement for any new claims to cite the authority for the claim alongside the claim itself, with appropriate links, that would go a long way to achieving this objective. I also think that action by competitors could be an effective way of moderating unsound claims made for rival products if the method were developed to a more mature level and didn’t descend into a slanging match. Unfortunately “experts” are available for hire to verify the most unsustainable of claims, and mountebanks and charlatans have been peddling dubious remedies for centuries but now with the global reach of the internet.

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Guest

Why stop at advertising? Perhaps we’d like political statements from the government and opposition to pass through an organisation to check their veracity, newspaper articles to go through some authority before they are published to ensure we are not being misled, Which? statements, campaign material and reports checked to ensure they are factual, unbiased and fair, comments on Convos filtered by the moderators before they are released to the rest of us?

Not a world I want to live in – having someone else (who are these super-knowledgeable people going to be – profit making companies who are less than competent probably) deciding what I cannot or can be told. I prefer to live in the real world where I use my common sense and experience to decide on the merits of what i’m told and a world where we all are given the benefit of the doubt until we have transgressed. Then penalise the transgressors to both punish them and deter others.

Apart from that, the size of organisations necessary to continually research and assess advertising, the host of experts that would be tied up doing this checking work instead of using their talents properly, is wholly impractical.

If we think we need to crack down harder on advertising then we need realistic ways. Perhaps someone could survey just how widespread real fraud is (not normal marketing) in advertising claims?

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

I want to see all NEW claims vetted before they can be used in advertising. This is both necessary and practical.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

Who do your propose should do the vetting? And perhaps it could be worth considering the status of the vetting – if an advert is passed and subsequently proves to be defective, do we make a claim against the vetters?

I’d like to know the real scope of this “problem”. We should all treat adverts as what they are – positive claims by the advertiser. They are not going to tell you any negatives and,unless they are unsafe, hazardous or whatever you would surely not expect them to denigrate their own products. It is up to us to exercise common sense and clamp down on those shown to be deceitful.

No comment on politicians, newspapers, and other sources of biased information? It is impractical and a censored world is not for me.

Profile photo of wavechange
Guest

I suggest that the vetting of new claims is done by the ASA, which is already responding to complaints about existing advertising. New advertising need not be vetted unless it makes new claims. If a problem arises then obviously the advertising needs to be revisited but there are precedents. For example, many gardening chemicals are approved for use and have been subsequently banned.

In the case of licensed pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers point out side-effects, interactions with other drugs, etc, so there is a precedent for manufacturers not just focusing on the positive aspects.

I did not respond on the claims of politicians etc. because this is not really relevant to the topic. I would be very happy if politicians stopped making outrageous claims but I’m not sure that Joanna would like us to derail her Convo.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

It is the same principle wavechange of whether we want information censored/vetted/sanitised by others before it is fed to us. And who are the experts to look in depth at, for example, all the data behind an advert and capable of making a definitive judgement? As I said earlier I’d rather competent qualified experts put their talents into more productive enterprises.

At present any suspicious claims can be looked at and banned if untrue. The key perhaps is whether this can be done sufficiently quickly; maybe that is the aspect we should be concentrating on to get a way forward that is achievable.

Profile photo of Sophie Gilbert
Guest

I haven’t tried to reduce my risk using products or services that claim to prevent dementia because, like all other dodgy investments out there, financial or otherwise, double-your-money or diet pills, if they sound too good to be true, it’s because they probably aren’t.

I agree with wavechange that it would be good to have products vetted before they are advertised, but malcolm r asks two good questions too. Who will do the vetting is an expensive but solvable problem in my view, an investment worth the return. To claim against the vetters or the manufacturers is more difficult to answer, an arguable ethical issue.

If Which? experts – including a dietitian, a GP and a professor of public health medicine – found one company’s dementia prevention claims to be so misleading that they have reported them to the Advertising Standards Authority, I want it to be named and shamed here and now please, and also elsewhere later, to try and protect the gullible vulnerable folk out there, not necessarily stupid but rather too trusting for their own good. If on balance they still want to try the product for themselves, so be it. Let us at least take the horses to water.

Profile photo of SteveRiley
Guest

electronic healing have disappeared, so the ASA caused their demise, but I agree that it is not the best organisation for complaints, I have complained about MediFacts and since then it has been used for other products, the ASA rejected it. I believe it is misleading as most people would think it is a public service “Medical Facts” advertisement.
The brand name is actually owned by the advertising company and in my years in advertising we have never used our brand on a clients advertisement, it would have been unethical, yes I know that sounds like a joke for that business, but the client is paying for the ad for their products, not ours.

Guest
Wayne Hutchings says:
22 June 2016

My feeling is that there’s too much emphasis on taking drugs to alleviate symptoms and not enough seems to being done to investigate why dementia occurs in the 1st place. There does appear to be evidence that it is linked to sugar and insulin and thus cutting carb intake and increasing fat intake is beneficial. Several books have been published that show references to studies that point to dementia being the 3rd type of diabetes.

Certainly there’s no harm in trying a low-carb, high-fat diet and more and more is being published that shows sugar could be a cause of many “modern” illnesses. Not that I’m an expert, but there’s a big Internet of information out there to study.