Will you remember to take your memory pills?
Middle- aged people with failing memories, parents pushing their children to join IITs, students cramming the year’s syllabus a month before exams- these are being targeted by the manufacturers of memory-enhancing drugs. Shivanand Kanavi investigates the efficacy of these drugs.
“I trust Memory Plus,” grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand has been assuring TV audiences in the country. Though he does not explicitly say that regular ingestion of Memory Plus helped him achieve phenomenal success in world chess, that is what the ad implies.
Velvette International Pharma Products Ltd., a Madras-based listed company, introduced the product in the market in July 1996. Whether the drug really had an effect on Anand during the past 18 months is a moot point. Anand was a grandmaster well before the drug was launched.
According to V.P. Kambhoj, an eminent drug researcher and scientist emeritus at the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, Memory Plus has been tested on mince for several years, It does improve the “Short-term and long-term memory” of mice.
But, hey, we want to know if we can become grandmasters after a course of Memory Plus! Conclusive proof of Memory Plus helping human beings has yet to come. Kambhoj says data is being collected at various research centres about it effectiveness on human beings.
One thing is certain, says Kambhoj: the drug is not toxic. In accordance with the standards of modern medicine, research at the CDRI has shown that Memory Plus does not have any harmful side-effects on human beings.
According to C.K. Rajkumar, Velvette International’s effervescent managing director, trials on the drug’s effect on the elderly are now under way at the Ayurvedic Research Centre at G.S. Medical College, attached to the well-known King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.
In short, it is still an opent question whether your memory will improve if you do remember to take your two ballets of Memory Plus a day for 90 days (a box of 30 pills costs Rs.105). You can’t be sure whether your investment of over Rs.630 on these tablets has improved your memory. By the time you finish the course, however, there is one thing you are unlikely to forget: how much you spent on it.
Research conducted on mice at the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre at Lucknow has shown that Memory Plus reduces anxiety and stress. Researchers found that Memory plus lowered the levels of HSP-70, a protection associated with stress, in the brain cells of mice.
The active ingredients in Memory Plus, which were chemically isolated by the CDRI, are called triterpenoid glycosides. They are also known as bacosides A and B, as atey are extracted from the brahmi plant (bacopa munniera).
In the charak Samhita, written nearly 2,000 years ago, brahmi has been prescribed as a nerve tonic for “anxiety, weak intellect and lack o concentration”. The Sushruta Samhita, written about 100 years later, also mentions brahmi as “effective for loss of memory and intellect”. Still later ayurveda texts also sang hosannas to the powers of brahmi.
Brahmi extracts have been indicated as therapeutic for patients of epilepsy and asthma as well. This is why the CDRI took up the study of brahmi in the 1960s, using modern pharmacological and chemical means.
Today, Memory Plus is being marketed as a herbal medicine and not as an allopathic drug. The studies conducted so far are more than enough to qualify it for such a table. Since 1976, the World Health Organisation has allowed the introduction of traditional medicines in to the market without further clinical trials, provided they have been in use for a long time. Brahmi, which has been used in India for thousands of years, certainly qualifies.
Rajkumar seized upon the idea, bought from the CDRI the technology for separating enough bacosides in the very first extract of brahmi, and introduced Memory Plus. He has pulled off a coup of sorts in imaginative marketing. Within the first 15 months, he claims, he sold about Rs.15crore of Memory Plus, making other pharma entrepreneurs jealous. International enquiries are pouring in, and Velvette Pharma recently launched the drug in Sri Lnaka and Malaysia.
FLATTERY BY IMITATION
The ultimate tribute to success is imitation. Dalmia Industries Ltd., the New Delhi-based Sanjay Dalmia group Company, has introduced a drug called MegaMind 2 Plus(available for Rs 108). It contains a brahmi extract, and small amounts of a herb called vacha. The company introduced it in July 1997, and says it is too early to provided sales data. It explains that, while brahmi is recommended for retention for facts, vacha helps recall. Whether human memory can be divided into retention and recalls is a big question. But the company claims that G P Dube of the Centre of Psychosomatic and Biofeedback Medicine at the Banaras Hindu University has researched the drug’s efficacy on human beings.
Dube claims that trials on normal people, as well as on those with degenerating memories, showed beneficial effects. Ayurveda, and not modern medicine, motivated his work. However, Dube has not been able to chemically isolated the active compounds.
Dalmia Industries is banking on his preliminary tests and advertising the drug as having been tested on human beings- a questionable claim. Without getting into the controversy of “retention and recall”, Dube claims that the use of small amounts of vacha, an ingredient o MegaMind, helps people with communication difficulties like stuttering and stammering.
So, for now, we have to depend on testimony of our grandmaster, roped in by Memory Plus, or some other celebrity that the makers of MegaMind may rope in tomorrow. If you do want to give in a try, remember to take the drug regularly without sipping a day. Both manufacturers warn that if you miss even one dose, the drug may not be effective, after all.
But if you can remember to take your two tablets every single day for three whole months, then do you really need the drug?