Dear Dr. V, 
I have a friend who is paying an outrageous price for the prescription drug Reminyl, which contains galantamine, for his Alzheimer's. Is there any difference between Reminyl and a galantamine supplement? They appear to be the same thing. 

Dear TC,
The active ingredient in each product is galantamine, which the manufacturer of Reminyl promotes as a treatment for the symptoms of mild to moderately severe dementia of the Alzheimer type, a disease that degrades brain function. However, Reminyl is sold as a prescription drug and is very expensive, whereas a galantamine dietary supplement is available over-the-counter for a much more affordable price.

How can galantamine be sold both as a dietary supplement and as a drug? Galantamine is extracted from plants and was marketed in the United States in the early 1980s for about five years. The company that marketed it did not fully understand what they had. Nevertheless, galantamine is grandfathered under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 and is a natural substance that has been in use for thousands of years.

As far as galantamine's drug status is concerned, calling it a drug does not make it one, and when Life Enhancement Products started marketing galantamine as a cognitive function enhancer in September of 2000, it had not yet been given drug status. Even though the medical establishment refers to galantamine as a drug, it is an herbal product. Thus, it is natural and not a synthetic chemical or a pharmaceutical.

The pharmaceutical industry would have you believe that galantamine is a drug because they recognize how outstandingly effective it is, and presumably effectiveness makes it a drug. However, the fact that food is effective - it is effective in keeping you alive - doesn't make it a drug. Of course, effectiveness is one of the criteria of success in the drug business; hence the financial motivation to market galantamine or any effective phytonutrient as a new drug. Drugs are more expensive and more profitable than herbal supplements. It's that simple.

Life Enhancement Products has made galantamine available to the public - without the need for a prescription - because it qualifies under DSHEA as a natural substance, because it is safe, and, last but not least, because it is effective in helping to maintain and restore proper cognitive function. And galantamine is available at a much better price than its pharmaceutical equivalent, Reminyl.

Of concern for the future: what if the FDA decides to ban the sale of galantamine, as they did with red yeast rice, a product that was helping millions of people control their cholesterol at affordable prices? Who wins (or loses) by restricting availability and driving prices higher for a naturally safe and effective product?

If you are interested in this subject, read Galantamine Rescues Brain Cells in Life Enhancement, February 2001. 
Dr. V