“What did I walk into this room for?” a woman wonders in the TV ad. “Your sunglasses,” her dog answers from the couch. “Need a memory boost?” a narrator asks. “Now there’s BrainStrong.” It closes with the tag line “Nourish your brain.”
BrainStrong ($17 to $30 for a 30-day supply) is a line of nutritional supplements with an algae-derived form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish. The company says it provides “optimized DHA nourishment” for almost every life stage. A kids’ version “helps support your child’s brain development”; an adult formula is “clinically shown to improve adult memory.” There’s also a version for toddlers and one for pregnant women.
The deal with DHA
It’s true that DHA is critical for adult brain function and fetal and infant eye and nervous-system development. And data show that dietary consumption of DHA is typically low in Western countries.
But the evidence is insufficient to determine whether taking supplements of DHA improves cognitive development or performance. The American Academy of Pediatrics has no position on omega-3 fatty-acid supplementation in children, saying that large clinical studies are lacking.
A spokeswoman for BrainStrong referred us to an American Heart Association recommendation that adults who don’t get enough omega-3s from food should take a supplement. But that advice applies only to people with heart disease or high triglycerides, for whom there’s some good evidence that omega-3 supplements can be beneficial.
Bottom line. Save your money. Most healthy people can get all the DHA they need from two servings a week of low-mercury fatty fish, such as wild salmon, mackerel, and tilapia. Vegetarians can get a different kind of omega-3 from flaxseed, walnuts, and canola oil. Ask your doctor before taking any supplement or giving one to a child. Like all supplements, BrainStrong is not FDA-reviewed for safety or efficacy.