Illustration: Jaedoo Lee

The Predatory Scam of Memory Supplements

What the federal lawsuit against Prevagen says about the American supplement industry and the brain

Andrew Zaleski
Published in
12 min readOct 12, 2020

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About one month went by until Mary realized she no longer had trouble remembering other people’s names. Jim says it only took three weeks for him to notice an improvement in his memory. Meanwhile, Sue experienced perhaps the most profound effects: She’s less absentminded, a better multitasker, and her recall of people’s names and faces has only gotten better. Her co-workers have noticed, too.

Folks like Mary, Jim, and Sue have been highlighted in commercials, radio spots, social media posts, and earnest-sounding infomercials produced by Quincy Bioscience, a Wisconsin-based supplement company. The television spots have aired on prominent cable networks such as CNN and Fox News. They might even be familiar to you.

In most of the spots, a narrator makes an argument that people who take drugs and supplements for their hearts, joints, and digestion are missing a critical organ: the brain. Each TV spot then pivots to the testimonials of everyday people who claim they no longer forget names, repeat the same stories, or misplace their car keys. They’re held up as veritable—and verifiable—success stories, the chief beneficiaries of one specific supplement: Prevagen.

“We see probably 60 patients in our office a day. The doctor asked several of us if we remembered this certain patient, and I was the only one that could come up with her name,” says Sue in one such infomercial. “They just are amazed at my memory at work.”

For nearly 15 years, Quincy Bioscience has made a name for itself by making and marketing Prevagen, a supplement for improving memory. Founded by Mark Underwood and Michael Beaman in 2004, the company came into being just as the wider market for brain-health supplements started growing rapidly. From 2006 to 2015, sales of products that purportedly boosted, improved, or maintained a person’s memory doubled to $643 million in the United States, according to data collected by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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