The manufacturer of Prevagen, Quincy Bioscience, claims on its website and product labeling that the supplement improves and sharpens memory. Moreover, it also provides the summary of a scientific study (that was manufacturer funded) that discusses the purported the benefits of the supplement. However, the study has certain flaws that can easily trick a person with little or no medical knowledge into overlooking.
Currently, there is insufficient evidence to support that Prevagen can work to sharpen or boost your memory as mentioned on the product label. The claims made by Quincy Bioscience have put them on notice as Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and New York’s attorney general charged the manufacturer of Prevagen with fraud in 2017.
How Is Prevagen Supposed To Work?
The active ingredient in Prevagen, apoaequorin is a naturally occurring protein in luminescent jellyfish. It is considered a "calcium-binding protein". These proteins have theorized benefits in preventing neuronal cell death and potentially improving depleted function due abnormal levels of calcium contained inside the cell.
Why Prevagen May Not Work
- Apoaequorin is a sensitive protein and liable to damage by digestive juices. The stomach contains several protein-digesting enzymes that break down proteins into smaller components called amino acids. Because apoaequorin is a protein, it is highly likely that proteolytic enzymes degrade it before it reaches the bloodstream. A good comparison is with insulin. Insulin, in its usual form, must be injected instead of taking it by mouth. Taking it by mouth will cause destruction of the sensitive protein.
- One study, authored by one of the founders of Quincy Bioscience, directly states that apoaequorin is broken down in the digestive tract. Due to this, apoaequorin cannot enter the bloodstream in an unaltered form:
"Apoaequorin is easily digested by pepsin, a characteristic commonly exhibited by many non-allergenic dietary proteins. From these data, there is no added concern of safety...”
- Let’s assume apoaequorin is absorbed into the bloodstream. Can it get into your brain? Not likely. This is because the brain has a highly selective membrane called blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB restricts entry of certain substances into the brain. In general, the BBB allows the entry of only those chemicals that have low molecular weight. But, apoaequorin has a very high molecular weight. In studies that do a show a potential benefit with apoaequorin, the protein was required to be injected via intra-hippocampal infusion (i.e. directly into the hippocampus).
- The study on the manufacturer’s website is faulty for a few reasons. First, the study doesn’t has no statistical comparison between the apoaequorin treated group and the placebo control group. Outside comparison of baseline scores, there is no comparison between the test group (who actually take apoaequorin) and control group (those who take dummy pills). Basically, you don’t know what, if anything, is affecting memory scores.
- The study, and many of the contained references, are manufacturer-funded and all the authors are associated with the company. In addition, the study has not been submitted to medical journals for peer-review.
Is It Safe to Take Prevagen?
Just like its effectiveness, the safety of Prevagen is also not clear. Safety studies of apoaequorin are lacking and the manufacturer mentions only two animal studies regarding this. In fact, the FDA has already sent a warning letter to Quincy Bioscience for failing to report 1000 plus cases of seizures, strokes, and worsening symptoms of multiple sclerosis resulting from its use.
The Bottom Line
Due to the lack of high-quality studies to support the use of apoaequorin as a supplement, it is advised that every individual looking to sharpen their memory should consult a health professional before taking Prevagen.