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Alzheimer's Treatment: Snake Oil or Scientific Breakthrough

Karen Francis's picture

What’s behind the claims and promises of the wonder treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s Disease?


Reading a magazine, watching television or logging onto your Facebook account can give you an endless supply of so-called break-through treatment and cures to investigate – articles, ads, infomercials and posts from your friends who just read about the latest “wonder cure” for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

That magazine has the word “science” in its title so that means they have proven their facts!

Some publications, in an attempt to gain more readers and customers will pull their readers in with a misleading title like, “Hope for Alzheimer's Sufferers with Scientists Developing a Treatment to Fully Restore Memory”. What that title didn’t tell you was that the treatment was performed on mice, not humans or any other animal. What the title didn’t tell you was that it will be at least several years of testing on other animal species before it is tested on humans. What the title didn’t tell you was that the mice used in their studies didn’t have all components of the disease pathology seen in humans. It is truly sad that it is common and accepted that the media will publish partial truths or worse, draw readers in with a catchy headline, write the story as told without doing proper research and publish only part of the facts or story.

Researching the Research
I ask my friends that are living with or caring for Alzheimer’s disease that before they invests their hope or funds into the latest "wonder cure" or "incredible treatment" to research the research.

Not all treatments and cures are widely available in every country. In the United States, we have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that was organized to protect Americans by ensuring that medication and treatments have been strenuously tested without significant adverse effects or side effects on the person for whom it is prescribed.

An “incredible treatment” in another country may not be approved for legal use and sale in the U.S because our scientists have not had the opportunity to study or trial the treatment to ensure its safety or it is simply not endorsed by the FDA. The same rigorous scientific research required by the FDA for the approval of a prescription drug is not required by law for the marketing of dietary supplements.

Do the medications approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease really work?

The medications currently on the market for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (i.e.: Aricept, Namenda, Exelon) may delay the onset of symptoms for a short period of time but they are not cures. The FDA approved medications do NOT slow, stop or cure the Alzheimer's disease process. These medications may create a temporary change in chemical activity in the brain to help the neurons that are still healthy do their job by communicating and connecting to each other to help cognitive abilities. The problem is that the medications approved for treatment by the FDA for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias is that they work where there is healthy tissue, it does not bring damaged neurons back to life so as the disease process continues, more damage is done to the healthy neurons and atrophy of the brain continues. “FDA-approved drugs temporarily slow worsening of symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.”, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

What information should I be looking for to determine whether they can back-up their claim that they have developed a “miracle treatment”?

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A few testimonials, a study group of 15 people done over a few weeks does not make for substantial proof of a claim. Before you invest your hope and money into the latest, greatest cure or treatment, consider these thoughts:

  1. Was there a study or trial performed on humans (was this tested on mice, pigs, monkeys?)
  2. How many subjects participated (what was the size of the group)?
  3. How did the "scientist" or research team determine the alleged success? What tools did they use to gauge success? Where those tools reliable and proven to perform what the researcher intended?
  4. How long was the study or trial performed?
  5. How many phases (how many times was the study or trial repeated with the same results proving their claims)?

Other considerations before starting a “wonder treatment”

Understand that companies selling and promoting these alternate treatments are not required to provide the FDA with the evidence on which it bases its claims for safety and effectiveness.

Purity is unknown. The FDA has no authority over supplement production. 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.

Many supplements claim to be a “natural cure”. Just because something is naturally found in the environment, animal or human, does not mean it is safe to put into your body. All substances, whether natural or created in a lab, are chemical. All chemicals have the potential to interact with the chemistry of your body. There are claims about natural cures that could in fact be dangerous, especially if you are already taking approved, prescribed medications. By using a "natural" substance, you may in fact be altering the intended effect for a medication you are already taking.

Before trying a product that is NOT an FDA approved treatment, research possible side effects and interactions with medications or treatment you are already receiving and possible effects it may have on other health conditions that you have been diagnosed with for which the "wonder cure" was not intended.

Why are people living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers so vulnerable to deceptive marketing practices from companies promising a “miracle cure”?

"We all want to believe a cure is on the horizon, that an effective treatment is over the next hill. I'll believe it when I see it AND when there is placebo-controlled, double-blind, valid, reliable, repeatable, high quality medical evidence behind it. Those studies must be both statistically significant AND clinically significant. A single study with a small number of patients is essentially worthless. Validation studies with large numbers of patients are key. So go ahead and have your coconut oil; it probably causes no harm as long as you are aware that there is no quality medical evidence for it at this time.", says Dr. David Kramer, a 59 year old physician, expert and advocate who was diagnosed at the age of 56 with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Don’t we all want to hope? Alzheimer’s disease was discovered over 100 years ago but yet in this day and age when other causes of death in this world are shrinking, the mortality rate for Alzheimer’s disease continues to grow.

Time is of the essence in developing effective therapies, time that most people living with Alzheimer’s disease do not have. A treatment can only be proven to be therapeutic through controlled, double blind, repeatable study which takes time.

While we are all waiting for a break through or wonder cure, let’s spend our time with the focus on quality of life.