A Brief Guide to Neuro-Products

By Neuroskeptic | August 13, 2018 4:41 pm

On this blog I usually focus on academic, scientific neuroscience. However, there is a big world outside the laboratory and, in the real world, the concepts of neuroscience are being used (and abused) in ways that would make any honest neuroscientist blush.

In this post I’m going to focus on three recent examples of neuro-products: commercial products that are promoted as having some kind of neuroscience-based benefit.

1) Neuro Connect Golf Bands

We’ll start out with a silly one. This product, full name Neuro Connect™ INFUSED Shaft Bands, costs $150 for a pack of ten bands. You’re supposed to place one of these bands just below the grip on your golf clubs. This will improve your golf swing by providing a ‘subtle energy connection’ between your club and your brain.

Here’s how it works: “A field emitted by the shaft bands intersects with the central nervous system when the club is swung around the body. Swinging with an INFUSED shaft band immediately enhances the function of nerve receptors in muscles and joints.”

fairuse

Now, generally speaking, when an “energy field” interacts with your nerves, the result is rather painful, but Neuro Connect uses a special “subtle energy pattern” which has no known negative effects. I suspect the field has no positive effects either, and that it doesn’t exist.

On their FAQ, under the heading of “Do you have any scientific proof the devices work?”, Neuro Connect admit that “credible peer-reviewed studies take years to complete” which I take as a roundabout way of saying “no”.

This product is an example of something that anyone with a scientific background would be able to dismiss as crazy: it claims to harness some kind of energy unknown to physics to make people better at golf, via some mysterious brain magic. Nonetheless, depressingly, there seems to be a market for it. And there are many other equally wacky products out there.

Generally, anyone who is trying to sell you something by invoking neuroscience alongside quantum physics is selling hot air.

2) Qualia Mind Mental Nutrition

This neuro-product is just one example of the many ‘brain-boosting’ nutritional supplements on the market today. I chose “Qualia Mind” as the exemplar of its genre only because it has quite cool packaging:

qualia_fairuse

Marketing for products such as Qualia Mind tends to imply that taking these supplements will enhance your brain function in all kinds of ways, making you smarter, happier and more productive. However, if you look closely, you will notice that they don’t explicitly claim to provide any of these benefits: this is because none of these products have been proven to work.

Qualia Mind for example is described as follows: “helps support mental performance and brain health. Specifically designed to promote focus, support energy, mental clarity, mood, memory, and creativity. Discover a whole cognitive upgrade with Qualia Mind.” This makes no specific promises (so, no lawsuits if the product fails) but it implies all kinds of good things.

Unlike Neuro Connect bands, supplements like Qualia Mind are not inherently implausible. It is plausible that some combination of nutrients and nootropic compounds could boost cognitive performance at least temporarily.

The problem is that there is, to my knowledge, no good evidence that any given neuro-supplement product actually works. That is, there are no large, randomized, placebo-controlled trials. The best evidence presented by Qualia Mind, at any rate, is one small, non-controlled pilot study and many of their competitors don’t even have that.

Personally, as a neuroscientist, I have never felt tempted to try any of these products. I take a standard, generic multivitamin pill with iron every day, costing virtually nothing, and I would be very surprised if any neuro-product was found to work any better.

3) Neuro Drinks

“Brain-based” food and drinks are popular neuro-products. The especially successful Neuro Drinks are available at Walmart and have even been endorsed by Kim Kardashian. I’ve never tried one of these brighly-colored brain beverages, so I’m not going to comment on the taste. But I do feel able to say that they have little to do with neuroscience.

neuro_bliss_fairuse

Neuro Drinks are available in various flavors, from blue Neuro Bliss to silvery Neuro Gasm. Each of these contains a different set of ingredients and herbal extracts which are (déjà vu alert) implied but not explicitly claimed to give a benefit such as relaxation or energy. Apart from Neuro Aqua, which is just water.

Other brain-based drinks on the market include (amongst many others) braingear and BrainJuice. For those who are more hungry than thirsty, there are also neuro-foods like NeuroTrition out there.

My overall view of these products is much the same as my view of the supplements that I discussed previously: while it’s not impossible that a drink or a diet could improve your brain function, I am not aware that there is any product that offers a meaningful benefit over just having a normal, healthy diet (other than the high caffeine content in many of the drinks, which probably does work, but caffeine pills are cheaper.)

Of course, food and drink neuro-products do have an advantage over supplements which is taste. Maybe you really enjoy, say, the white raspberry flavor of Neuro Bliss – in which case, great. If it’s tasty, then go for it. But I don’t think it’s likely to do your brain any particular good.

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  • TheArgonaut

    AHAHAHAH….I’m so hopped up on Brain Juice that I realised you’d be writing this column yesterday! I can totally attest that these magic elixirs are the real deal, and any side efffffeeeccccttsssssss…..man, I’m bleeding! I need a hanky…thanks…oh man…

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  • Thus Spoke ZibbleThustra

    This “brief guide” was completely devoid of any real information. You just mentioned three products (not even stating the ingredients for the two ingested products) and said they don’t work. What a waste! I thought this was a science mag?

    • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

      This “brief guide” was completely devoid of any real information.” and thus eloquently filled with it.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Well, I said it was brief. As for the ingredients, you can find these by following the links I gave, but I didn’t mention them because the ingredients will differ according to the brand – the two brands I picked were only examples. The point is that regardless of the ingredients, I’m not aware of any large, placebo-controlled trials showing that these products are effective.

      • Mikael Koivukangas

        Thanks for the read Neuroskeptic.

    • Mikael Koivukangas

      I imagine the function of this brief guide is to arm you with questions you should be asking when purchasing products which promise health- or neurological benefits.

      It’s not meant to tell you what to buy or what to do, it’s supposed to give you a few helpful tools to use when you do that thinking thing you do when buying.

    • Erik Bosma

      science mags can have a ‘head’s up’ section

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    1) GO JUICE associates mental function like no other product. GO JUICE contains Neurolastima, extracted from Didymosphenia geminata. No other product can make that claim!

    If I were the Dr. Happy, my “go juice” base of armodafinil, plus speed (Ritalin, or time release Adderall) would be augmented with XTC, but what do I know?

    • Erik Bosma

      single malt scotch gives me the boost i’m looking for…

  • Mikael Koivukangas

    I’ve long believed and continue to believe that the single fundamental problem we’re facing in health-related (wellness.. UGH) products, supplements and so forth which are B2C, is that most people who go to business school have little to no knowledge of medicine.

    The solution, again in my anecdotal view is to have a varied background: We should make business-, medical-, law students mingle and take some joint courses in college as part of their curricula.

    You can only improve in what you do, neuroplasticity proves this. If all you do is business, you can sell dirt to a farmer. You can be brilliant in business, but when medicine and business collide the damage is human.

    Oh, and IT. IT students should also be forced to work with physicians. The entire debate around health data is giving me psychosomatic cringe.

    • http://stephan-zielinski.com/ Stephan Zielinski

      Actual knowledge of snakes is of no use to a business model predicated on selling snake oil. If anything, it would be counterproductive.

      More ominously, pharmaceutical representatives are not selling their company’s products to doctors by knowing medicine…

  • http://dcscience.net David Colquhoun

    Oh dear, I thought this article was quite good until I read “I take a standard, generic multivitamin pill with iron every day”.
    Surely you must be aware that there isn’t the slightest reason to think that this is either necessary or desirable.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      I know it’s very unlikely to be helpful, but given how cheap it is, I take it as a precaution on the off-chance that I might get a deficiency.

  • wintersurvival

    Can you do a long piece on EFFECTIVE ways to increase intelligence (drugs, techniques, etc)?

    • http://stephan-zielinski.com/ Stephan Zielinski

      Read a book.

      • wintersurvival

        Congratulations Stephan. Which book did you read?

        • http://stephan-zielinski.com/ Stephan Zielinski

          The Cat in the Hat. Turns out the book’s better than the movie.

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About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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