Alzheimer’s disease, while preventable, is generally considered irreversible due to the damage caused primarily in the medial temporal lobe. However, there is good reason to believe that a) the degeneration may be arrestable and b) that the brain can build new synapses and dendrites, the connections between brain cells, thus restoring some memory function.
Given that synapses are principally composed of essential fats, especially the omega 3 fat DHA, and phospholipids, principally phosphatidyl choline, Richard Wurtman, Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and colleagues, first tested the effects of a combination of nutrients, including antioxidants and methylation nutrients that lower homocysteine on animals with positive results. (There is growing evidence that homocysteine causes damage in the brain associated with Alzheimers.)
This recent study (P.Scheltens et al, Alzheimers & Dementia 6, (2010)1-10) was a pilot study involving 225 Alzheimers patients who had not been on either medication or supplementation, given either placebos or a nutrient cocktail containing a combination of high dose essential fats (300mg of EPA, 1200mg of DHA), phospholipids (106mg plus 400mg of choline), antioxidants (40mg of vitamin E, 60mg of vitamin C and 60mcg of selenium), B vitamins (400mcg of folic acid, 3,000mcg of B12 and 1mg of B6) and uridine, which is a substance produced by the body that enhances synaptic growth.
This rather short 12 week trial showed clear improvements in memory, not seen in the placebo group. This is encouraging and paves the way for longer trials. The choice of nutrients also makes sense in that DHA is the main omega 3 fat that builds the brain, and that phospholipids can be created in the brain, a process of which is very dependent on methylation. Vitamin B6, folic acid and B12 are required for proper methylation and the elderly are often unable to absorb B12, hence the need for very high doses. The ideal intake of B12 in older people with mild B12c deficiency is in the order of 1,000mcg, a thousand times the RDA. This formulation gave 3,000mcg – a hefty dose.
At the Brain Bio Centre we have also seen Alzheimer’s patients make significant improvements in memory, sometimes equivalent to turning back mental deterioration by one of two years.
The need for longer studies is important because the most commonly prescribed drug, Aricept, also creates short-term improvement over one or two years, but shows no improvement greater than placebo at three years. The mechanism that explains this is that Aricept enhances acetylcholine, the memory neurotransmitter, but doesn’t arrest brain cell degenration, so the benefit is short-lived.
The big question is can a cocktail of brain nutrients both reverse memory loss and maintain the improvements, thus arresting further degernation and, even possibly, encouraging brain recovery. While total recovery is too much to hope for on the basis of current knowledge, I think the best bet to date is to enhance methylation and anti-oxidation, since homocysteine and oxidants seem to be the primary culprits causing brain damage.
If you’d like to find out more read Alzheimers Prevention Plan. For state of the science nutrition-based treatment contact the Brain Bio Centre.