Is The Jellyfish Memory Supplement A Hoax

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in jellyfish memory supplement, Supplements and Health

Are The Claims Too Good To Be True?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

jellyfish memory supplementDid another phony nutritional supplement, the jellyfish memory supplement, just bite the dust? You’ve seen the TV ads reminding us that our memory starts to fade as we age. You’ve heard the claims about a protein derived from a jellyfish improving your memory. You’ve seen graphs summarizing a clinical study proving the product works. It all sounds so compelling. Are those claims too good to be true? According to the FTC and the New York Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, the answer is yes.

Is The Jellyfish Memory Supplement A Hoax?

On January 9th 2017, the FTC and the New York Attorney General’s office sued the makers of the “jellyfish memory supplement,” accusing the company of making false and unsubstantiated claims that the product improves memory, provides cognitive benefits, and is “clinically shown” to work.The FTC complaint alleged that the marketers relied on a study that failed to show that their product works better ftcthan a placebo on any measure of cognitive function. In their joint press release the FTC said “The marketers of [the jellyfish supplement] preyed on the fears of older consumers experiencing age-related memory loss. But one critical thing these marketers forgot is that their claims need to be backed up by real scientific evidence.” The New York Attorney General said “The marketing for [the jellyfish supplement] is a clear-cut fraud, from the label on the bottle to the ads airing across the country. It’s particularly unacceptable that this company has targeted vulnerable citizens like seniors in its advertising for a product that costs more than a week’s groceries, but provides none of the health benefits that it claims.”

Why Were The Clinical Study Results So Misleading?

clinical studyI am a strong supporter for innovation in supplement development. However, innovative products should be backed up by published clinical studies showing significant benefit before being marketed to the public. Unfortunately, the clinical study cited for the “jellyfish memory supplement” does not meet this standard.

  • The study has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. That means the study has not been independently reviewed by anyone not associated with the manufacturer.
  • When you actually analyze the data, it turns out that the improvement in memory was inconsistent from subject to subject, and the overall results were not statistically significant.
  • The graph shown on TV shows a 20% improvement in memory in just 90 days. In fact, that degree of improvement was only experienced by a very small subset of users. Most users experienced either no improvement or an insignificant 5-10% improvement. The graph the company used to market their product was clearly misleading.

Why Was The Scientific Rationale For The Product So Misleading?

misleading studyApoaequorin, the jellyfish protein in question, is a calcium binding protein. The manufacturer claims that it improves calcium balance in the body, which improves brain function. There are numerous fallacies in that model. For example:

  • Apoaequorin is not found in humans. In fact, the manufacturer does not even use the protein found in jellyfish. They use a synthetic version produced through genetic engineering.
  • Calcium balance is very tightly regulated in the human body. There is no evidence that the addition of apoaequorin, or any other calcium binding protein, improves calcium balance or brain function in humans.
  • Proteins do not enter our bloodstream intact. They have to be degraded to individual amino acids before they can be absorbed. That means when you take a pill containing apoaequorin protein, all you get is a release of amino acids into your bloodstream.
  • Finally, even if you were magically able to get apoaequorin protein into your bloodstream, it couldn’t cross the blood-brain barrier. The only reliable means of getting proteins into the brain is by cranial injection, and I don’t think anyone is going to be doing that for mild cognitive impairment.

The emperor has no clothes! Don’t get me wrong. As someone who is moving into my “golden years,” I would love to see this product succeed. I would love for them to produce clinical evidence that their product makes a statistically significant improvement in memory. I would love for the data to be good enough that it could be published in a peer reviewed journal. I would love for the jellyfish memory supplement to be legitimate. However, I suspect the FTC will win this one. I suspect another bogus product is about to bite the dust.

What Does This Mean For You?

This is just one of many examples of supplements that have first rate marketing, but second rate science. As a consumer, you need to be eternally vigilant. Unfortunately, most of you are not scientists, so it is very difficult for you to evaluate the claims. The FDA does it’s best to shut down products that are dangerous to your health. The FTC does it’s best to shut down products that make unfounded claims. I will do my best to warn you about about bogus products. However, none of us can keep up with all the dangerous and bogus products that flood the marketplace. At the end of the day, your best defense is to remember that famous quote “If it sounds too good to be true…” The jellyfish memory supplement sounds too good to be true.

The Bottom Line

  • The FTC and New York Attorney General have sued the manufacturers of the “jellyfish memory supplement” that has been so widely advertised on TV. The FTC alleges that the claims for that product are “false and unsubstantiated.”
  • The clinical study cited by the manufacturer was flawed because:
    • The results had not been published in a peer reviewed scientific journal. That means the study has not been independently reviewed by anyone not associated with the manufacturer.
    • The results were not statistically significant.
  • The scientific rationale for the product was flawed because:
    • The “jellyfish protein” is not found in humans. In fact, the manufacturer does not even use the protein found in jellyfish. They use a synthetic version produced through genetic engineering.
    • Proteins must be degraded to individual amino acids before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. That means when you take a pill containing “jellyfish protein”, all you get is a release of amino acids into your bloodstream.
  • Even if you were magically able to get the protein into your bloodstream, it couldn’t cross the blood-brain barrier. The only reliable means of getting proteins into the brain is by cranial injection, and I don’t think anyone is going to be doing that for mild cognitive impairment.
  • I will do my best to alert you about bogus supplements. The FDA and FTC will do their best to protect you. However, none of us can keep up with all the dangerous and bogus products that flood the marketplace. At the end of the day, your best defense is to remember that famous quote “If it sounds too good to be true…”

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (4)

  • EROCA

    |

    I am passionate about your wonderful skill to define the truth. You are surely living with your music being shared with the world. I am happy to share this.

    Reply

  • Merlena Cushing

    |

    I very much agree with Eroca…Your ability to share “your music” with the world is a blessing to all of us. Likely few take the time to thank you for your generosity, so I am doing so now and want to assure you that I often pass on your articles. This is a fantastic one. I have been skeptical of those “jellyfish” ads from the beginning.

    Reply

  • Merlena Cushing

    |

    I saw a Prevagen ad again tonight, so maybe the suits against them were dismissed. Hmmmmm.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Merlena,
      They are contesting the suit. These things take time to resolve.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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