Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Supplements: Should I take truBrain drinks?

I guess promoted tweets do come in handy every now and again. Blog fodder. This tweet appeared in my feed last week:


Naturally, my response was: that sounds like complete and utter bullshit.

I went to their website to look for the science to back-up their claims; i.e. an increase in productivity. Naturally, the truBrain research team conducted the study. Surely no bias there. The study itself? Seven. Yep, seven, participants were examined for changes in EEG results following one week of truBrain consumption. The EEG was used to measure brain activity. There was no control group and no blinding (read: high likelihood of bias). Even with the deck so well stacked in their favour, the “researchers” found no significant results at a group level. This pilot study is the only research cited on their website.

Okay, so there’s no real science to support the claim that truBrain can increase productivity. Perhaps a look at the ingredients can provide more illumination:

375 mg of CDP-Choline – The lovely folks at examine.com indicate that there is some minor evidence to support the use of CDP-Choline to support memory and attention, and decreased cognitive decline in older adults. If there is a benefit conferred by CDP-Choline, this might be an effective dose.

200 mg of DHA – This is an omega-3 fatty acid. There may be benefits seen at this dose, although there is no scientific consensus. Also, benefits are most likely seen in individuals who do not regularly consume fatty fish.

375 mg of L-carnitine – This is quite a low dose. While there is some limited research to support the use of L-carnitine to increase cognition in the elderly, there is no research to support its use in the young.

300 mg of L-theanine – This is an amino acid that may promote relaxation. There is no research supporting its use to improve cognition.

375 mg of L-tyrosine – Another amino acid. As a supplement, it may reduce stress and memory in the presence of an acute stressor.

120 mg of magnesium- Many of us don’t consume enough magnesium in our diets so it’s hard for me to knock the inclusion of this mineral in their beverage. However, this is a rather low dose. Some forms of magnesium can cause gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea. It’s also important to note that magnesium supplementation is unlikely to have any effect on cognitive performance.

800 mg of oxiracetam – This is a mild stimulant that may improve memory but there aren’t currently human studies to support this.

In addition to the “medicinal” ingredients, truBrain drinks also contain the following “natural” sweeteners: pomegranate, stevia, blue agave, cranberry, sugar cane, and monk fruit. Six sweeteners. Sweet enough for ya? Not mentioned in any of the ingredient lists is caffeine. The website shows an option for purchasing “non-caffeine drinks” but at the moment they have not yet developed any.

At the low end of the scale you can purchase 15 drinks for a one time fee of $60 or $50 per month. That’s $4 per packet. Unfortunately, the website doesn’t clearly state the size of each drink packet nor the full ingredient list or nutrition information. Without complete information, I can’t completely rip these truBrain supplements to shreds.

Apparently these supplements were developed by neuroscientists. While this might seem to lend an air of believability to their claims, it truly only shows that no profession is exempt from quackery and the desire to turn a profit.


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Will berries boost your memory?

Oh Chatelaine, you never fail to provide me with material to blog about. I read it for the recipes and the inaccurate nutrition information.

The latest article to spark my ranting was a brief piece recommending eating berries to improve memory; or more specifically, to “slow cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.” What does this really mean? After a little digging for the journal article upon which the piece was based (why don’t magazines have to provide references?) I found it: Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. The first thing I did was check to see who the study was sponsored by. What a surprise, The California Strawberry Commission. Naturally, it would be in their best interests to find a positive association between strawberry consumption and decreased cognitive decline.

Looking at the study itself, I’m even less accepting of the conclusion that berries help to maintain cognitive function. They used the data from the Nurses’ Health Study which means that their results were based on food frequency questionnaires. Food frequency questionnaires are notoriously inaccurate, even more so than food recall questionnaires. Think about it, you try to recall how many times you ate berries (specifically strawberries and blueberries) over the past year. Even if you could remember that much, would you be able to remember how much you had on each occasion?

Cognitive assessment was done via a series of telephone administered tests. I don’t have any quibbles with this.

The researchers accounted for a number of potential confounding factors; however, despite mentioning that physical activity, annual household income, and fish consumption were all higher among those consuming the most berries, they appear to have only adjusted for age and education. When comparing those who ate the most berries to those who ate the least, the mean difference in global decline was determined to be 1.5-2.5 years. Women with the lowest cognitive scores were excluded from the analysis as it was surmised that they may have been experiencing the early stages of dementia. It makes me wonder what the results would have shown if they had included all of the sample in their results. I also question why they didn’t include the table showing the results when they controlled for all potentially confounding factors.

I’m all for berries. They’re delicious and nutritious and I don’t want my dissection of this study to discourage anyone from consuming them. I just don’t like seeing the benefits of consuming any one food overstated.