Harriet Hall debunks Mayim Bialik’s claims for Neuriva “brain supplement” and her status as “an actual neuroscientist”

November 28, 2021 • 9:30 am

Every evening or so in the ads on NBC News, I have to watch television star Mayim Bialik tout her “brain supplements”, which she claims she invented. They are of course untested nostrums (see below), but the icing on the cake is Bialik’s claim that she’s “a real neuroscientist.” (She does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and plays one on the t.v. show “The Big Bang Theory,” but that’s as far as it goes.)

Here are two of her commercials for Neuriva. Nothing she says in the first commercial about Neuriva is true, and she adds that she’s a genuine scientist, saying, “I really am; ask your phone.” Well, I asked my computer, and no dice.

Below is the short commercial I usually see, in which she advertises her snake oil and boasts, “I’m an actual neuroscientist.” She also says she “loves the science behind Neuriva Plus.”  Both the value of the product and her claim to be an actual scientist are dubious. As Harriet Hall notes below, there is no science behind Neuriva.

Over at Science-Based Medicine, Harriet Hall went after Bialik’s claims (both of them) and found them wanting. Neuriva’s efficacy is untested and doubtful, and as for the “actual neuroscientist” part, well, see below, as I did my own investigation.

Click on screenshot to read:

I hope Dr. Hall won’t mind if I reproduce her entire short piece:

I wrote about the brain supplement Neuriva over a year ago. I thought their claim to have proof from clinical studies was misleading. I won’t repeat here what I said there about the evidence: I urge you to click on the link and read what I wrote.

An article in Psychology Today reviewed the evidence and called it “Neuriva nonsense” and “just another snake oil.”

Now they are selling Neuriva Plus, which combines the ingredients in the original Neuriva with vitamins B6, B12, and folate. Do they have any evidence that adding these vitamins enhances the effectiveness of Neuriva? Of course not! Neither Neuriva nor Neuriva Plus has been clinically tested. They are relying on studies of individual ingredients, and those studies are questionable. The results have been mixed, and one study was in aged mice!

Now Mayim Bialik has embarked on a campaign as Neuriva’s science ambassador. You may have seen her commercials on TV where she says she “loves the science of Neuriva” and claims it supports six key indicators of brain health. You may remember her as Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s girlfriend in “The Big Bang” t.v. series.

Elsewhere she has said:

Neuriva Plus is backed by strong science — yes, I checked it myself — and it combines two clinically tested ingredients that help support six key indicators of brain health.

She holds a PhD in neuroscience, but I couldn’t find whether she ever actually worked as a neuroscientist. It’s obvious that her understanding of “strong science” doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. I doubt if she reads Science-Based Medicine or understands the principles we go by.

Conclusion: Bialik is a good actress. 

Does Neuriva Plus support brain health? Maybe. We have no way of knowing for sure until the product itself is clinically tested.

To check how “actual” Bialik’s claims to be a scientist are, I searched the Web of Science under the names Bialik M and Bialik MC to see if she had any publications (this is the way we find out someone’s record). As the screenshot below shows, she has zero publications. She is neither teaching in a university, working in a lab, or, as far as I can see, actually doing any science. (BTW, I no longer say “I’m a biologist” when someone asks me what I do. I say that I’m a “former biologist”, “superannuated biologist” or “retired biologist.”) The circling is mine:

Now Wikipedia does report on her training:

She returned to earn her Doctor of Philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007 under Dr. James McCracken.[25] Her dissertation was titled “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptiveobsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome“.[2][26][27]

But if you look at references 2, 21, 26, and 27, you find no peer-reviewed publications except her Ph.D. thesis. She has written no books on neuroscience, either. She’s written or coauthored four books, but none about neuroscience:

Bialik has written two books with pediatrician Jay Gordon and two by herself. Beyond the Sling[57][58] is about attachment parenting, while Mayim’s Vegan Table contains over 100 of Bialik’s vegan recipes.[59][60] Her third book, Girling Up, is about the struggles of and ways in which girls grow up, showing the scientific ways in which their bodies change. Its successor, Boying Up (2018) analyzes the science, anatomy and mentality of growing up as a boy, and the physical and mental changes and challenges boys face while transitioning from adolescence to adulthood.

To me this doesn’t give her present status as a neuroscientist, and she’d stand no chance of being hired by a university as one.  But I don’t mind that nearly as much as her using those credentials to sell untested “brain supplements” to a credulous public. People are spending actual money on Neuriva, and much of that must be based on Bialik’s claimed credentials and her status as a television celebrity. In this sense she is the female equivalent of Deepak Chopra, who can claim, “I’m an actual doctor” while selling his useless “longevity supplements.”

38 thoughts on “Harriet Hall debunks Mayim Bialik’s claims for Neuriva “brain supplement” and her status as “an actual neuroscientist”

  1. My wife and I have been watching Bialik host Jeopardy and we agree that there’s something odd about her. Ken Jennings, a big past Jeopardy winner, is now hosting and doing a great job. Unlike with his first attempt at hosting, he now seems much more relaxed and jovial. Right now, he’d be my first choice to the get the permanent gig.

  2. I know this is beside the point of Mayim Bialik’s credentials as a neuroscientist, but she did an excellent job hosting Jeopardy. Very personable.

  3. I agree that Ken Jennings is the best host of Jeopardy and I hope he gets the job, full-time. But Mayim Bialik would be my second choice of all of those who auditioned for the job.

  4. She is, indeed, a good actress. We enjoyed her in “Big Bang Theory” and her new series “Call Me Kat.” Personally, she does seem a few kittens short of a caboodle.

    1. Call Me Kat is a repackaged UK Tv show called Miranda, staring the lovable klutz Miranda Hart, who I believe is a producer or something like that on Kat. I recommend it highly. You will recognize many of the gags, better executed by Hart, and story lines but different settings. I may be just a bit biased though, as I absolutely adore Miranda Hart.

  5. Each time I hear her say that she is an actual neuroscientist, it outrages me what a fraud she is. The first time I saw that ad, I looked online for her credentials and found none, then looked at clips of her acting from her early childhood on, and clips of her on Jeopardy, and she appears to always have been superficial, opportunistic, and smug.

    1. There is likely to be a growing backlash against those claims of hers, since it is both easy to verify and a bit juicy. Too bad, really, since I liked her in The B. B.Theory and on Jeopardy. Puzzling too, as she hardly needs the money.

      1. No, I believe the over-the-hill celebrities sell Colonial Pen Life Insurance or that Medicare Insurance Helpline, which I hear is DY-NO-MITE! Besides, she’s only middle aged, not over-the-hill, although I suppose in Hollywood that is practically dead and buried.

        1. Yes, over-the-hill was perhaps not the right phrase. Without knowing her actual situation, I imagine her as a character type that is no longer in demand. Game show hosting is a way to go for an actor trading off their past stardom. Hawking health aids is another.

        2. I don’t watch much commercial tv these days except for the news, but from what I’ve seen, it seems a lot of the over-the-hill gang is pushing reverse mortgages to aging Boomers.

  6. A naive question from someone who knows little about the world of supplements but what are the known, clinically proven benefits of vitamin B6, B12, and folate? Obviously they are important to obtain in our food but is there any benefit in supplement form or is it just a recipe for making expensive urine, as I believe Dr Sheldon Cooper once quipped on the Big Bang Theory? And if there is actual benefits, then exactly how beneficial can taking such supplements be if you have not had lab work done that shows you are indeed deficient or if these supplements are not rigorously tested with exactly quality controls to insure they do indeed have the levels of vitamins as claimed on the label? Because our health and medical fields, are pharmacological and supplement industries, and our regulatory agencies are so bloated and distorted, I find trustworthy information difficult to come by.

    1. Isn’t the whole vitamin thing predicated on the idea that if a chemical is declared as essential to healthy human life then taking more of it must be a good thing. That’s just not the case but it is an easy sell.

    2. I don’t know about those B vitamins but B2 is used in a group of vitamins that have shown some clinical use for migraine treatment. My neurologist recommended a handful but none helped me. Among them were B2 and Q10. I kept taking the Q10 because it made my hair and nails nicer.

  7. I hold a diploma in chemistry, but I have never done research in chemistry.

    Therefore: I am not a scientist and neither is Mayim Bilaik.

  8. I wonder, does having a PhD make you a better actor or salesperson? Alex Trebek did Jeopardy for many years and when you pay any attention he was very good at it. He tried to make the contestants the stars and always toned down his part. Most game show people do not do this. I have no idea who should replace Alex but the show seems to be having trouble doing this. Jennings is probably the best idea because he had a relationship with Alex. He also played the game better than anyone. He made millions on the show. His long run was over 2.5 million alone. He then came back and took on the best they had and beat them. I also thought Joe Buck, the sports guy was really good as host on the show.

    1. Can someone revivify Art Fleming? He was the original Jeopardy host when I was a kid, and I liked him best of all.

      And while they’re at it, maybe they can revivify Don Pardo, the original Jeopardy announcer. (Art Fleming’s first words each show were always “Thank you friends and thank you, Don Pardo, and welcome to Jeopardy.”)

      1. Sorry, I forgot the exclamation mark in Jeopardy!. My bad.

        Who’s a fella gotta screw around here to get his edit function back, anyhow? 🙂

      2. Fleming was the original but I don’t think it went big time until Alex took it there. I believe Don Pardo is still there.

  9. It’s interesting that Sam Harris, who has actually published a few papers if memory serves, does not call himself a neuroscientist, though sometimes other people do when introducing him, and he has far more impressive credentials than Mayim Bialik. [Though she was much better than he was in “Beaches”, and–though he reminds me a bit of Bill Bixby–I don’t think he ever had anything to do with Blossom.]

  10. Is it common in US to complete a PhD in natural sciences without any publications in peer-reviewed journals? Here in Finland, the normal required number of publications is 4-5, preferably as first author. The thesis itself is then a sort of summary and discussion of the substance in those publications. I think peer-review of work outside the institute is a very useful quality control.

  11. At least Neuriva and the other vitamin supplement pills are essentially harmless. They are advertised to make you smarter, so after you shell out your money for them, and then complain that there was no effect whatsoever, the retailer can respond: “See, you’re smarter already.”

    What gets me are the terrifying TV commercials for real pharmaceuticals. Each one ends with images of people dancing and playing, while a cheery voice announces that side effects may include feelings of heat, rash, itches, discomfort, constipation, cramps, fever, paralysis, loss of consciousness, coma, and general organ failure—and “some deaths have been reported”. I am frozen in horror before the list is half over. The range of ills for which pharmaceuticals are now marketed is also impressive. First there was a pill for the sonorous “tardive dyskinesia” (which anyone would be honored to have). And now a pill for schizophrenia. A pill to cure forgetfullness is bound to come next, but won’t help me, because I will forget to take it.

    1. I believe it is the medication Jardience (sp?) which lists an itchy, red, swollen perineum as a side effect. I never can recall what the drug is supposed to be used for, but I’d be checking out an exhaustive list of alternatives before I risk a tainted taint.

      1. Jardiance is one of the many medications for Type II diabetes. I have been taking it for a couple of years anyway.

  12. Publishing parts of a thesis as the results come in is common in the US (and Canada). Like in Finland, the thesis is mostly a summary of the published work. It’s not necessary to do that, some PhD students don’t have any published work at the time of the thesis defense, and those students do defend and earn a PhD. But these are often considered failures in a practical sense.

  13. I was a fan of her as a host of Jeopardy until I saw these ads. They’re terrible.

    She’s not “an actual neuroscientist” because she’s never worked as a neuroscientist. She’s someone with the educational qualifications to become a neuroscientist, but that’s not the same thing as actually being one.

    I was cool with fans saying “she’s an actual neuroscientist” as shorthand for “she studied actual neuroscience in school and got an advanced degree in it” when she was acting in The Big Bang theory, but not once she started using that claim herself to hawk bogus brain pills.

  14. I tried not to comment on this, but couldn’t help myself :

    The general consensus of flat-out misrepresentation is very clear. I have nothing to add.

    I suggest another view I think is also plausible – from Fantasyland (see K. Andersen’s book) – apologies for the indulgence :

    Dr. Bialik (I am not aware of her use of this formalism) could be simply taken advantage of by the propaganda department of this new candy company (for a fee, of course).

    The propaganda department – not Dr. Bialik – grasps that her *identity* is that of a scientist – that an advanced degree means Dr. Bialik’s *identity* is that of a scientist. Identity is very important in modern times, as we know – so they simply ignore what a Ph.D. means, or how it factors in, say, a resumé, or what publications mean – too much. There is an audience they are targeting, after all.

    Capping off the weird logic is her apparition on a screen telling listeners to ask their phone, as if we are pals of hers out to Sunday brunch – and as if we are in conversation with an inanimate object – both fantasies. It is not a professional claim, but a fantasy that she is our pal. The propaganda team knows this. Maybe they can get the “reply” by the phone to be what they want, who knows.

    I think the last part gives this a red-zone reading on the Fantasyland-O-meter – an inanimate object projecting a fantasy upon which an action is enacted, also of fantastical nature.

  15. I find that Mayim Bialik is stretching some facts when stating she is a Neuroscientist. She is no more a Neuroscientist than I am a Criminologist. She has a degree, in Neuroscience. That is a huge and difficult accomplishment, but, I agree with the others that she has never worked as a Neuroscientist as she claims and is being deceptive by saying she is a Neuroscientist. She is an Actor that makes good money pretending – just like she is pretending to be a Neuroscientist. Seems to be a nice person and decent actress, I just hope she doesn’t actually believe she is “an actual Neuroscientist”.

  16. she’s not a neuroscientist in the sense of someone currently researching or teaching in neuroscience … but you have to do real research to do a phd, on top of many years of study. this seems like a silly point to quibble over. i’m inclined to accept that someone with a phd is a neuroscientist, even though there’s certainly a sense in which she isn’t. she does have expertise beyond the imagination of non-experts

    but the point is that she’s falsely using her narrow expertise to make an unjustifiable claim … which is something people do at every level of qualification, if they are sufficiently motivated or ignorant. i sometimes suspect people earn degrees purely for the ability to parrot all the wrong beliefs they had in high school, but with a false pretense of authority. i think we could easily stick to the relevant issue, which is that Bialik is misleading people about the powers of this product, and she MUST know that (unless she’s a total idiot, but then last i heard she was anti-vax) or her claims wouldn’t be so full of weasel words that make idiots think she’s saying something she’s not

    consider “…help support six key indicators of brain health…”. “help” “support” and “indicators of” are all qualifiers that absolve you of having made the claim of the thing provably causing brain health

    and if you think that science has proved that A causes B, you’d say that. you’d never describe that situation by saying “i love the science”. science can be very loveable without demonstrating the thing you wish it did. but you sure as shinola know the viewers hear the latter and think she’s saying the former

    and Bialik knows that. unless she’s a total idiot. so qualifications be damned, she had no credibility or integrity, and she’s abusing people’s trust

    anybody with an undergraduate neuroscience degree can spend a week reading papers and have a solid grasp of whether these claims are supported. i suspect Bialik has done this … which makes it all the worse for her that she has accepted money to merely pretend that this has scientific support

    1. “she’s not a neuroscientist in the sense of someone currently researching or teaching in neuroscience”

      Ah. I see.

      So is it her … identity?

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