If you regularly watch nightly national news on TV, you have probably seen ads for the dietary supplement apoaequorin (PREVAGEN). One ad opens with video of beautiful blue jellyfish and asks, “Can a protein originally found in jellyfish improve your memory?” The ad announcer continues: “Our scientists say yes! Researchers have discovered a protein that actually supports healthier brain function. It’s the breakthrough in a supplement called PREVAGEN … [It’s] been clinically shown to improve...
If you regularly watch nightly national news on TV, you have probably seen ads for the dietary supplement apoaequorin (PREVAGEN). One ad opens with video of beautiful blue jellyfish and asks, “Can a protein originally found in jellyfish improve your memory?” The ad announcer continues: “Our scientists say yes! Researchers have discovered a protein that actually supports healthier brain function. It’s the breakthrough in a supplement called PREVAGEN … [It’s] been clinically shown to improve memory.”
If these ads sound suspect, it’s because they are: The claims in the ads are too good to be true. Fortunately, the ads caught the attention of federal regulators and state authorities, and in January, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the New York state attorney general (NYAG) together filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin-based Quincy Bioscience, the maker of PREVAGEN. The FTC and NYAG charged the company with false advertising promoting the memory and cognitive benefits of PREVAGEN.
Quincy Bioscience relied on a single randomized study to support the claims that PREVAGEN is clinically proven to improve memory. The study involved 218 subjects, ages 40 to 91, taking either PREVAGEN or placebo capsules and undergoing nine computerized tests designed to assess memory, learning and other cognitive skills over a 90-day period.
According to the FTC and NYAG complaint, an analysis using data from all study subjects failed to show a statistically significant improvement in the subjects taking PREVAGEN compared with placebo-group subjects on any of the nine computerized cognitive tasks. But after failing to find a treatment benefit, the researchers allegedly conducted more than 30 analyses of various subgroups of subjects for each of the nine tasks, making it likely that they would find some statistically significant differences by chance alone. Indeed, they found differences on a few of the subgroup analyses, but the vast majority showed no significant differences. Such subgroup data mining is bad science.
Moreover, the company’s claims about PREVAGEN improving memory and cognition rely on the theory that the protein apoaequorin moves into the brain from the blood. But the FTC and NYAG allege that the company has no evidence of this protein entering the human brain after oral consumption. To the contrary, the company’s own research shows that the protein in PREVAGEN, like other proteins in the diet, is rapidly broken down in the stomach.
“The marketers of Prevagen preyed on the fears of older consumers experiencing age-related memory loss,” says the FTC’s Jessica Rich. “But one critical thing these marketers forgot is that their claims need to be backed up by real scientific evidence.”
The FTC and NYAG hopefully will put an end to this apparent hoax and force the company to provide refunds to deceived consumers and give up its ill-gotten profits. And consumers should be skeptical about most health claims made by dietary supplement makers.
 Case No. 1:17-cv-00124. Filed January 9, 2017. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/quincy_bioscience_complaint-filed_version.pdf. Accessed January 12, 2017.
 Quincy Biosciences. Clinical trial synopsis QB-0011: Madison Memory Study: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial of apoaequorin in community-dwelling adults, older-adults. August 1, 2016. https://www.prevagen.com/research/. Accessed January 13, 2017.
 Federal Trade Commission. FTC, New York State charge the marketers of Prevagen with making deceptive memory, cognitive improvement claims. January 9, 2017. https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2017/01/ftc-new-york-state-charge-marketers-prevagen-making-deceptive. Accessed January 12, 2017.