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Posted November 16, 2018

Two Popular Memory Supplements Missing Some or All of Key Ingredient

Two popular Ginkgo biloba supplements marketed to improve memory do not contain the Ginkgo biloba claimed on their labels, according to tests conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The tests showed that a single-ingredient supplement, advertised as containing "ultra pure" ingredients that would enhance memory and brain function and labeled as containing 120 mg of Ginkgo biloba extract per serving, did not contain any ginkgo. The laboratory determined that the product was intentionally adulterated with one or more substitute ingredients and the GAO warned that the safety of these ingredients could not be determined. The product label also claimed that the ginkgo had been verified using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) -- the same testing method that the GAO's laboratory used to determine that the product was adulterated, and one of the testing methods used by ConsumerLab to test the quality of ginkgo supplements. 

A second, combination supplement labeled as containing 60 mg of Ginkgo biloba extract, as well as phosphatidylserine and ashwagandha, contained significantly less ginkgo extract than listed on the label. The tests showed it contained about one-half of the amount of ginkgo flavanol glycosides as stated on the label, as well as less phosphatidylserine than claimed. 

(ConsumerLab's Review of Gingko Biloba Supplements, which includes testing for ginkgo flavonol glycosides, as well as for other ginkgo compounds known as terpene lactones, also found quality issues with a number of products. In 2018, only 4 of 10 ginkgo supplements selected for testing by ConsumerLab were confirmed to contain their listed amounts of real ginkgo extract.)

A third popular memory supplement, labeled as containing fish oil, was found to contain it's labeled amounts of omega fatty acids, although in slightly higher amounts (8 to 13% more) than claimed. 

(See ConsumerLab's Review of Fish Oil and Omega-3 and -7 Supplements for tests of related products).

The GAO's report did not disclose the brand names or manufacturers of the three products tested, but stated that they were selected from among the top 10 most-advertised products identified in a previous, 2017 GAO report.

The findings will be "sent to FDA for review and possible investigation, in coordination with FTC as appropriate." The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has charged the makers of a number of memory and cognition supplements in the past with making unsubstantiated claims about their benefits, including Procera AVH, Cognify and BrainStrong.

For more information about supplements for memory and cognition, see CL's answers to questions about memory supplements:

Do any supplements really help with brain function, like memory and cognition?

Does Prevagen really improve memory?

What is Brain Bright and can it really improve memory or cognition?

Do either phosphatidylserine or phosphatidylcholine help with memory and cognition?

To read the GAO's report, use the link below.