Our expert says:
Hi Suza, thank you for the question.
A growing number of herbal remedies, vitamins and other dietary supplements are promoted as memory enhancers or treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and related diseases.
Claims about the safety and effectiveness of these products, however, are based largely on testimonials, tradition and a rather small body of scientific research. The rigorous scientific research required for the approval of a prescription drug is not required by law for the marketing of dietary supplements.
I will list a few supplements that are commonly linked with helping to prevent and delay the onset of Alzheimer’s:
Doctors sometimes prescribe vitamin E to treat Alzheimer’s disease. One large study showed that vitamin E slightly delayed loss of ability to carry out daily activities and placement in residential care.
Scientists think vitamin E may help because it is an antioxidant, a substance that may protect nerve cells from certain kinds of chemical wear and tear.
No one should use vitamin E to treat Alzheimer’s disease except under the supervision of a physician. The doses used in the study were relatively high, and vitamin E can negatively interact with other medications, including those prescribed to keep blood from clotting.
Although many of these remedies may be valid candidates for treatments, there are legitimate concerns about using these drugs as an alternative or in addition to physician-prescribed therapy:
Concerns about alternative therapies:
Effectiveness and safety are unknown. The maker of a dietary supplement is not required to provide evidence on which it bases its claims for safety and effectiveness.
Purity is unknown. It is a manufacturer’s responsibility to develop and enforce its own guidelines for ensuring that its products are safe and contain the ingredients listed on the label in the specified amounts.
Bad reactions are not routinely monitored. Manufacturers are not required to report any problems that consumers experience after taking their products.
Dietary supplements can have serious interactions with prescribed medications. No supplement should be taken without first consulting a physician.
Coenzyme Q10, or ubiquinone, is an antioxidant that occurs naturally in the body and is needed for normal cell reactions. This compound has not been studied for its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s.
A synthetic version of this compound, called idebenone, was tested for Alzheimer’s disease but did not show favorable results. Little is known about what dosage of coenzyme Q10 is considered safe, and there could be harmful effects if too much is taken.
Ginkgo biloba is a plant extract containing several compounds that may have positive effects on cells within the brain and the body. Ginkgo biloba is thought to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, to protect cell membranes and to regulate neurotransmitter function. Ginkgo has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and currently is being used in Europe to alleviate cognitive symptoms associated with a number of neurological conditions.
However, results of a large, multicenter Phase III study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (November 19, 2008) showed that gingko was no better than placebo in delaying changes in memory, thinking and personality and had no impact on the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
According to the researchers, an effect may have been observed if the study was longer because it takes many years to progress from the initial brain changes of Alzheimer’s to the clinical symptoms of dementia. The research team intends to conduct a follow-up analysis of brain function and structure in a subset of study participants using magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography scans.
Huperzine A (pronounced HOOP-ur-zeen) is a moss extract that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It has properties similar to those of cholinesterase inhibitors, and as a result, it is promoted as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
Evidence from small studies shows that the effectiveness of huperzine A may be comparable to that of approved prescription drugs.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA).
Research has linked high intake of omega-3s to a possible reduction in risk of dementia or cognitive decline. The chief omega-3 in the brain is DHA, which is found in the fatty membranes that surround nerve cells, especially at the microscopic junctions where cells connect to one another.
A Jan. 25, 2006, literature review by the Cochrane Collaboration found that published research does not currently include any clinical trials large enough to recommend omega-3 supplements to prevent cognitive decline or dementia. But the reviewers found enough laboratory and epidemiological studies to conclude this should be a priority area for further research.
Theories about why omega-3s might influence dementia risk include their benefit for the heart and blood vessels; anti-inflammatory effects; and support and protection of nerve cell membranes. There is also preliminary evidence that omega-3s may also be of some benefit in depression and bipolar disorder (manic depression).
A report in the April 2006 Nature described the first direct evidence for how omega-3s might have a helpful effect on nerve cells (neurons). Working with laboratory cell cultures, the researchers found that omega-3s stimulate growth of the branches that connect one cell to another. Rich branching creates a dense “neuron forest,” which provides the basis of the brain’s capacity to process, store and retrieve information.
Following from the above my advice would be to consult a Neurologist on a regular basis and to discuss with him/her the use of Vitamin E and Omega 3's.
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