Are The Claims Too Good To Be True?
Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney
Did 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 than 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?
I 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?
Apoaequorin, 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.