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Will your brain work better if you take Neuriva? Probably not.


My TV is threatening to collapse under the onslaught of commercials for Neuriva. They say it has been clinically proven to improve five measures of brain performance: accuracy, performance, concentration, memory, and learning. I found that hard to believe, since I recently wrote an article for Skeptical Inquirer reviewing the claims for nootropics and performance and image enhancing drugs (PIED). I found the evidence for all of these drugs lacking. I warned readers not to follow the PIED piper.

Had I missed something? Have they found a new nootropic that really works? No such luck; they had merely recycled two old ones. Do they really have clinical proof that Neuriva is effective? They say, “Nature made it. Science proved it. Brains love it.” I looked for their “proof”. I soon found that “clinically proven” doesn’t mean what they would like us to believe it means.

In the first place, nature didn’t make it; a company did. A company that doesn’t inspire confidence, since it is the same company that sells Airborne, a bogus cold remedy. And science didn’t prove that Neuriva is effective; it hasn’t even tested Neuriva. Neuriva contains only two ingredients: phosphatidylserine and coffee cherry extract. Those two ingredients have been studied, but the combination has not. When they say “science has proven,” they only mean there is scientific evidence for each of the two ingredients. But what kind of evidence? I tried to ferret it out.

Coffee cherry extract

Coffee cherry extract, also known as cascara (not to be confused with that other cascara, cascara sagrada), is made from what is left after the coffee beans have been removed. Bloomberg reports that this coffee waste is selling for 480% more than coffee itself. Coffee cherry extract has been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) by 143%, but only in a single study with no control group that gave a one-time dose to participants and concluded that larger clinical studies were needed to evaluate its therapeutic potential. One study found that coffee cherry extract reduced reaction time in 71 adults with mild cognitive decline but did not significantly improve other measures. Reaction time is not one of the five benefits claimed for Neuriva.

BDNF has been studied, but its relationship to mild cognitive impairment is unclear. A study was done to “determine whether serum BDNF level might be a useful biomarker for assessing risk for mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in older people”. It found that low serum BDNF was associated with lower cognitive test scores and MCI. It said that future prospective studies should establish the discriminative value of serum BDNF for the risk of MCI. Bottom line: correlation, not causation; possibly useful but only as a biomarker; no evidence that raising serum BDNF levels would improve measures of cognition.

In a study about the effects of acute exercise, cognitive function scores improved after all exercise conditions, but they did not correlate with BDNF changes.

Phosphatidylserine

One study showed that phosphatidylserine improved memory in aged mice.

There are some positive studies in humans, for instance this one from Japan in which the improvement in memory was only significant in a subgroup and was attributed to one measure: delayed verbal recall.

And there were also negative studies like this one: It showed that phosphatidylserine does not affect memory or other cognitive functions in older individuals with memory complaints.

Research not convincing

In short, I didn’t find convincing evidence that either ingredient was an effective nootropic, and the combination in Neuriva has not been studied. I was underwhelmed and soon stopped looking. I admit I did not do an exhaustive search; perhaps one of our readers can point out something impressive that I missed. But I won’t hold my breath. There is a pattern here that I have seen over and over for dietary supplements. By “clinical proof” they do not mean what they would like us to believe they mean.

Customer reviews

People who tried it had mixed results. Even the positive reviews reported side effects. Interfered with sleep, helped with sleep, awesome, love it! Didn’t work. Really helps with memory. Doesn’t taste good. In short, pretty much what we would expect from placebo responses to an ineffective treatment.

Conclusion: claims not supported

Despite the advertising claims, Neuriva has not been properly tested in a controlled clinical study. So we have no way of knowing if it is safe and effective. My guess is probably not. I’d be happy to be proven wrong if well-designed clinical studies corroborate the claims.

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Posted by Harriet Hall

Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about pseudoscience and questionable medical practices. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so),  and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel.  In 2008 she published her memoirs, Women Aren't Supposed to Fly.