Brain Health,
Smart Drugs,

#017: Dr. Raza Naqvi’s Review of 32 Published Pharmacological Studies

June 11, 2013

In this week’s podcast, Dr. Raza Naqvi shares the conclusions he derived after reviewing 32 high-quality published medical studies done on the effects of drugs, vitamins and  supplements on cognitive decline in healthy older adults. Dr Naqvi is currently a Geriatric Medical Fellow at the University of Toronto, who has interests in geriatric care and specifically issues relating to memory loss and dementia.

Doing Nothing Fancy Might be the Best Choice You Can Make

Dr Naqvi’s review concluded that there is no ironclad evidence for any pharmacological medication therapies for preventing cognitive decline in healthy older adults. Some evidence indicated that certain therapies still practiced, such as those involving supplemented Estrogen and some arthritis-related anti-inflammation therapies, may actually do more harm than good.

The review also had a look at two other categories of treatment to help prevent cognitive decline: mental exercise and physical exercise. The studies on the effects of mental exercises showed that keeping your brain active does actually help in slowing the rate of cognitive decline. The studies on physical exercise had mixed results, but given all the other benefits of physical exercise, even if “the jury is still out” on neurological benefits, it should still be something you do regularly to maintain your overall health.

What Dr. Naqvi Recommends

Since there is solid evidence that mental exercise helps maintain cognitive function with age, Dr. Naqvi recommends everyone keep their mind busy doing mentally stimulating things that they actually enjoy.  He also underscores that physical exercise’s lack of definitive neurological benefits doesn’t mean they’re not present, but possibly only that the right studies might not have been done to rigorously prove them.

Raza advises his patients to get off of as many medications as possible, unless there is a proven upside – and especially if they are already on other medications with which there may be unknown interactions. The complex nature of the human body makes it very hard for someone to determine whether they are actually experiencing any real benefits from taking a certain substance; therefore keeping it simple will often be a better option.

He doesn’t say that nootropics don’t work, but that there is a limited amount of studies that have been done properly to support any claims, and delves into some issues of who funds medical studies, and the “publication bias” seen in medical journals in the US and Europe.  In the US, where Big Pharma is strong, there is a tendency for studies relating to drugs with positive results to be published, rather than negatively-toned studies.  In German-speaking countries, by contrast, there seems to be a publication bias in favor of herbal substances over pharmaceuticals.   This inherent difficulty for even the most avid medical literature readers getting “just the facts” without spin is one more reason for Naqvi’s overall prescription of simplicity.

What Younger People Can Do to Protect Themselves From Dementia Later in Life

Dr. Naqvi explains how studying new subjects can help increase the neural connections in your brain, which can protect you from experiencing dementia later in your life.  Learning new languages seems to be one of the most effective forms of this mental exercise, forcing the brain to think in new ways and develop many new connections.  And, he points out, cheaper than $50,000 of post-graduate study.

This Week In Neuroscience: If You Want To Live Longer, Do Nothing

Avi Roy, a PhD student from the University of Buckingham, recently posted this article going into the science of longevity.  Indicating the fad-like and frequently-overturned nature of life-extension “techniques,” he has come to the conclusion that “doing nothing” is probably a better option than putting in any over effort to improve his health, beyond the few obvious things (e.g. “don’t smoke”) we know are effective for our health.

Roy includes a chart in his write-up depicting how survival rates to certain ages have changed for birth-groups from the 1860s to 2010. Only about 20% of the population survived past 70 in the 1860s, while in recent decades surviving to become a septuagenarian is commonplace. Roy states that the main factors that have improved our survival rates have been access to medical intervention, and – in the last 50 years – smoking less.  Nevertheless there is still a seeming “ceiling” on upper human lifespan at about 120 years…

Can this ceiling be lifted by science?  Only now are we beginning to really try… and even among medical professionals, the jury is still out.

Key terms mentioned


  1. ben says:

    Who knew Germany was big on botanical studies!

    With so many ways to go wrong, you wonder how much credibility can be placed into any one study. There was a good NPR podcast on this subject:

    BTW, any plans on doing an L-deprenyl episode?

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