Apoaequorin: What You Need to Know

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 20, 2023
4 min read

Apoaequorin is a protein found in glow-in-the-dark jellyfish called Aequorea victoria. A lab-made version of apoaequorin is the main ingredient in the over-the-counter dietary supplement called Prevagen, which claims to improve mild memory loss linked to aging.

If you've thought about trying Prevagen, it's important to get the facts. Here's what you need to know about a product that calls itself a "brain health supplement."

Prevagen is a daily capsule or tablet that comes in three strengths: 10, 20, and 40 milligrams of apoaequorin. Its website says it's not meant to treat, prevent, or cure any disease. And the company that makes it says it's intended for healthy people who don't have dementia.

Apoaequorin is a "calcium-binding protein," and research links calcium to brain health and memory. An imbalance of calcium in brain nerve cells called neurons might play a role in aging the cells, destroying them, and disrupting signals between them.

But could swallowing calcium-binding protein based on jellyfish somehow benefit your human brain? Research suggests it doesn't, experts say. The apoaequorin in Prevagen likely gets digested by your stomach before any of it stands a chance of reaching your brain.

There isn’t strong research that apoaequorin taken by mouth boosts memory. The Prevagen website points to one small study that was sponsored by the supplement’s maker.

The study looked at 218 adults ages 40 to 91 who said they had concerns about their memory. The researchers randomly assigned some of them to take capsules with 10 milligrams of Prevagen daily for 90 days, while the rest were given placebo capsules that had only white flour in them. All of the participants then took nine computerized tests over the course of the study to gauge their thinking-related skills.

By the end of the study, the researchers said that some of the people who took Prevagen showed slight improvements, compared to the placebo group, on a few of the tests. Those people had little or no cognitive impairment, which is trouble with remembering, learning new things, focusing, or making key decisions. The researchers concluded that Prevagen could "improve aspects of cognitive function" in people with normal brain-related aging or very mild cognitive impairment.

Some neuroscientists had a different take on the results. They said the study didn't show that people who took Prevagen significantly benefited more than the placebo group.

Also, experts usually don't consider the findings of one small study to be clear proof of anything. It typically takes several large studies to confirm early results.

The company that makes Prevagen hired two doctors to review possible side effects (also called adverse events) reported by people taking the supplement containing apoaequorin. Some people said they had:

The doctors concluded that all serious adverse events were linked to other health conditions or were unrelated to using the supplement.

There are two word-of-mouth reports from people with multiple sclerosis who took apoaequorin supplements. One person said they developed low blood pressure, and the other said they became depressed with suicidal thoughts. It's not clear if these events were related to taking apoaequorin.

Based on current evidence and widespread use, apoaequorin supplements seem to be "well-tolerated" for most people without health conditions who take a low dose for 90 days.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not evaluated Prevagen for safety and effectiveness and has tried to curb claims that it may help memory. It has taken the stance of, saying, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is?”

Many experts advise against taking supplements that claim to improve your memory. A group of scientists, doctors, scholars, and policy experts brought together by the AARP said it couldn't recommend any ingredient or supplement marketed for brain health after reviewing the available research. The group concluded that a healthy diet was the best way to get brain-boosting nutrients.

The Alzheimer's Association cautions that claims about memory-enhancing dietary supplements are mostly based on very little science.

If you're having trouble with your memory, talk to your doctor. They'll help you figure out what's going on with you, and they'll recommend ways to help you get your memory working as well as possible.

Don't take any new supplement without talking to your doctor or pharmacist first. If you want to try a product containing apoaequorin, ask them if it might affect any health conditions you have or any medications or other supplements you take. Also ask if you should take the lowest dose and stop after 90 days, since the safety of high doses or long-term use hasn't been well-studied.