AgingDrugs & MedicationsHuman InterestPreventive MedicineWellness


Surely, sometime recently you’ve seen one of the many testimonials on TV for drugs to improve memory. First we see the elderly couple who have been taking Drug X for 11 years and feel sharper and more alert than ever. Then, we marvel at the 70 year old dental hygienist, and bird fancier, who looks 50, and like all other advocates, claims to think clearer, have better, sharper memory, have more energy, and enjoy an improved quality of life—all because of Drug X. These ads are so well done and so compelling, you want to pick some up at the drug store as soon as possible. The Drug X marketing campaign is successful to the tune of $165 million in annual sales revenue.

What is Drug X, any way? Does it really work? Why did it help these people? Will it help me? Should I buy it? 

Those questions, especially, “does it work?”, were answered by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2017 in a statement resulting from studying the effectiveness of Drug X. (Details later) The FTC and the New York Attorney General’s office sued the “marketers of Drug X” for “allegedly making false claims that the dietary supplement can improve memory loss and support brain health in older adults.” 

Drug X is one of a new class of supplements called Nootropics, a term I had not heard previously. It identifies a group of substances called cognitive enhancers. Cognitive enhancers are natural or synthetic vitamins, amino acids, minerals, fatty acids, and herbal ingredients that improve cognitive performance. Cognition is “the capacity to process information, apply knowledge, and change preferences. It involves memory, attention, executive functions, perception, language, and psychomotor functions.” In other words, it’s an expression of our mental function from an intellectual perspective; are you sharp, can you remember things, can you reason. 

Nootropic supplements claim to help cognition in the following ways:

     Improve Memory

     Promote Focus and Alertness

     Enhance Learning

     Support Verbal Recall

     Support Analytical Thinking

     Boost Mental Energy

     Enhance Creativity

     Reduce Stress

     Fight Cognitive Decline

These are very bold assertions. If Ponce de Leon had lived in the 21st Century, he would have taken Nootropics instead of drinking from the Fountain of Youth!

Memory is the retention of information the brain grasps—the ability of an individual to record sensory stimuli, events, pieces of information, and retain them over short or long periods and recall them at a later date when needed. Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease gradually lose all these important intellectual functions and decline mentally. Changes in the circulation of the aging brain contribute to the factors that lead to the impairment of Alzheimer’s. 

Nootropics, or smart drugs, like Drug X, are alleged to improve the intellectual decline of Alzheimer’s and even keep it from beginning. The primary ingredient in Drug X is apoaequorin, a protein derived from a species of jellyfish. JELLYFISH? It works by getting “rid of excess calcium that builds up in the brain as we age.” (Does that really happen?) Drug X also contains Vitamin D, which has been studied extensively, but has not been shown to prevent memory loss. Apoaequorin “acts similar to a protein in our bodies called calmodulin. Calmodulin (I’ve never heard of this) is thought to play a role in memory, but very little research on it is available.” The makers of Drug X derived their claims of efficacy from a single, questionable clinical study on apoaequorin thus opening themselves for regulatory scrutiny. 

The maker of Drug X, claims the product can help mild memory loss like that experienced as we age and says it’s “clinically proven” to work. It is not intended, though, for severe memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. The company has faced a lot of criticism and been thoroughly investigated by the FTC and FDA. The studies the company conducted to justify their efficacy claim have been questioned due to problems with patient selection, the small number of participants, and the methods used to evaluate cognitive function. “One critical thing these marketers forgot is that their claims need to be backed up by real scientific evidence.” Their studies don’t substantiate their claims. 

The manufacturer responded to FTC scrutiny by presenting 30 additional studies analyzing Drug X’s efficacy. Of those 30 studies, only three showed results that were statistically significant while 27 studies did not. The FTC and New York Attorney General charged the maker with making false claims about the benefits of Drug X and won the judgement. When the company’s own studies show “no statistically significant improvement in memory and cognitive function compared to placebo,” they have a problem. 

Drugs for memory decline are meant to reduce further intellectual loss, indirectly manage vascular risk factors, and improve brain function. Many do all three, but many are no better than placebo. Drug X did not impact brain function as advertised.

Returning to the questions in the second paragraph:

    What is it? Drug X is a Nootropic supplement, apoaequorin, jellyfish protein

    Does it work? Scientific studies done by the manufacturer have NOT shown it is effective.

    Why does it help some people? People in these commercials are clear examples of the

       placebo effect. Drugs work if you have a strong conviction and desire for them to work.

    Would it help me? I could be influenced by the placebo effect, too, but I seriously doubt I

       would benefit from Drug X.

    Should I buy it? I also doubt I would ever spend money to buy any Nootropic supplement. 

Dr. G’s Opinion: Thanks to the woman who suggested it, I’ve learned a lot researching this subject. I’ve never been an advocate for vitamins, minerals, supplements, and now, also, Nootropics. I do so only when there is laboratory documentation of a deficiency. Drug X is one of many products touted as making us smarter, clearer-headed, and less forgetful. No scientific study by this company, or any other, has ever shown that these substances help. Here in 2021, the “fountain of youth” still does not exist. However, humans are a susceptible species, and are eternal optimists. They will try anything they think might work and eagerly anticipate positive results. The placebo effect is a powerful phenomenon that is often enhanced by the cost of a drug. “If it’s expensive, it must work!” 

As we hear so often today from politicians, “we can’t ignore the science.” In this case, it is science that answers all of our questions about Drug X and decides whether or not it helps. Science does not substantiate Drug X’s claims, and as such, it should NOT be recommended for its stated purposes. However, if the manufacturer ever comes up with a convincing study documenting efficacy, I may change my aged mind.


Froesti W, Muhs A, Pfeifer A. Cognitive enhancers (Nootropics): Part 1: Drugs Interacting with Receptors. J Alzheimer’s Dis 2012 Nov 14;32(4):793-887.


Sun MK. Potential Therapeutics for Vascular Cognitive Impairment and Dementia. Current Neuropharmacol 2018;16(7):1036-1044.

More L, Lauterborn JC, Papaleo F, Brambilla R. Enhancing cognition through pharmacological and environmental interventions: Examples from preclinical models of neurodevelopmental disorders. Neuroscience Biobehav Rev. 2020 Mar;110:28-45.

Holder S, Anand U, Nancy S, et al. Herbal drugs and natural bioactive products as potential therapeutics: A review on pro-cognitive and brain boosters perspectives. Saudi Pharm J 2021 Aug;29(8):879-907.

Block B, Albanese S, Hume A. Online Promotion of “Brain Health” Supplements. Sen Care Pharm 2021 Oct 1;36(10):489-492.

Spence J, Chipenta M, A Brief Review of Three Common Supplements Used in Alzheimer’s Disease The Cons Pharm 2017 July;32(7):412-414.


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  1. Wow
    I just finished reading the prevagen post. Thanks. I always worry about my mental abilities and alertness. I saw the decline of my dad health with Alzheimer.
    Thank you for the great research.

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