Why is That Hideous Prevagen Commercial Allowed on TV?

By Josh Bloom — Mar 09, 2023
If you think Prevagen is gonna help your memory, forget it. The stuff is useless. But that doesn't stop sleazy Quincy Bioscience from incessantly advertising it (often between other disgusting ads for legitimate prescription drugs). So if you're thinking about incinerating 75 bucks for a bottle of this junk, here’s some sound advice to remember: don't.
Free Image: Wikimedia Commons

I'm not a big fan of TV ads for drugs. They are cloying and sickening, and that's even before you're bombarded by the cyclone of side effects at the end. But at least these drugs are FDA-approved, so they have some benefits. (I take one of them and what it does for me is nothing short of a miracle.)

Another kind of miracle is Prevagen. Because, contrary to what Quincy Bioscience, its maker claims, you'd need a miracle for it to actually help your memory, regardless of whether you remembered to take it or not. And the active ingredient comes from jellyfish. It's not like jellyfish are known as intellectual powerhouses, right? After all, how often do you see this?

Professor Manowar explains simple math to his hapless class. Free images: RawPixel, Wikimedia Commons

 No, it doesn't work. Let's ask Dr. Joe!

ACSH friend Dr. Joe Schwarcz (1) is the director of McGill University's Office for Science and Society ("Separating Sense From Nonsense") a prestigious academic department with the same mission as ACSH – to educate the public about good science and debunk bad science. I don't want to go into why Prevagen cannot possibly work; Joe explains this thoroughly in a 2019 article.

Forget the scientific implausibility though; the relevant question is whether Prevagen works...Quincy Bioscience, the company that markets Prevagen, hypes an in-house placebo-controlled trial that shows memory improvement after ninety days. Actually, while there were some positive results in a few specific tests, overall the placebo group performed as well as the experimental group.

Then there's the package.

Prevagen's scheme begins in the drugstore. (Left) A screenshot of the front of the box. Lots of promotional BS but what's that muon-sized speck in the red circle? (Middle) I was able to get some time on the Hubble Telescope but it didn't help. (Right) After blowing it up a bazillion times I was able to see what those accidentally atom-sized symbols meant. At the bottom is the standard dietary supplemental double talk. But above it is something rather interesting. The clinical trials (which I'm sure were awful) provided some interesting information: the stuff was only tested on people with normal memories or were "mildly impaired." That's pretty much like testing a toaster by putting in toast to see if it makes toast.

And I use the word "test" in quotes:

There is little clinical evidence that Prevagen actually protects brain cells, or improves memory. Two of the three clinical studies cited by the company have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Source: ConsumerLab.com

Let's Get to the Commercials

The commercials are almost all the same, slightly different versions read by the actors who are reading a script. 

Below is Douglas, a 79-year-old man who needed an extra push to stay competitive. 

(What's he competing over? The last can of Ensure?)

"I happened across Prevagen, which I saw in a commercial and I started taking it...I saw myself having an improved memory, which at the same time, I felt better about myself."

(Douglas forgot his 2nd-grade grammar)


Douglas really does need some kind of memory help because he got his own age wrong by 14 years in two different commercials. Or are there two Douglases? You tell me. They look vaguely similar. Do we have a double-Douglas scandal? 

Old Douglas, and Young Douglas. Are they the same person? Hard to say. If so, that ad sure took a long time to finish.

OK, you get it. These people are paid to read variations of the same carefully-worded script, for example.

  • "I really feel like my memory has improved since I started taking Prevagen"
  • "My wife thinks my memory is getting better"
  • "I've been taking Prevagen every morning for three years. I take it every morning with my other vitamins (it's not a vitamin). People say to me periodically "man you've got a memory like an elephant"

None of it means anything.

The single anecdote as evidence

Whether these people get paid or not or whether they take Prevagen or not makes no difference.  One-person experiments mean nothing. 

Here are some more tetimonials I just made up. They are all true.

  • Ever since I started eating waffles I haven't been run over by a cement mixer.
  • Ever since I got a new watch no alligator has crawled out of my toilet.
  • I mopped my floor and Mount Etna didn't erupt. (These occur at roughly the same interval.)

A bunch of stupid nonsense, right? Just like our laws that allow companies to be advertising and selling useless junk. Remember that.


(1) Joe is truly one of the finest science communicators around. You can listen to his weekly radio show here. He also has videos all over YouTube. His only downside is being a Yankees fan. Just like me.


Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

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