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Nutrient Combination May Improve Memory in Alzheimer's


Would you take a nutrient combination that might improve your memory? Scientists as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) believe they have found a combination of nutrients that stimulate the growth of new brain connections and thus may improve memory in Alzheimer’s patients.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal brain disease that destroys brain cells, causing memory loss, behavior problems, and a loss of cognitive functioning. Approximately 5.3 million Americans have the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and it is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

This is not the first time a nutritional or dietary approach to prevention of memory loss for Alzheimer’s disease has been proposed. Research has indicated that a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fish, monounsaturated fats, fruits, and vegetables may help ward off the disease. Most recently, a study in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care noted that “a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet has been associated with slower cognitive decline” as well as a “reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease noted that diets high in saturated fatty acids and deficient in antioxidants and vitamins appear to promote the onset of Alzheimer’s, while diets rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and unsaturated fatty acids appear to suppress its onset. Diets with lots of polyphenols and selected spices also can be beneficial as they destroy free radicals and prevent oxidative damage, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

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The new MIT study included 225 Alzheimer’s patients who were given either a control beverage (control) or a nutrient combination containing uridine, choline, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, all of which are precursors to the molecules that make up brain cell membranes which form the brain connections, called synapses. The nutrient combination also contained B vitamins, phospholipids, and antioxidants. The treatment part of the trial lasted 12 weeks.

The patients who had been given the nutrient combination (a drink called Souvenaid) showed a statistically significant improvement compared with controls: 40 percent of the treated patients improved on verbal memory compared with 24 percent in the control group. Among the treated patients, those who had the mildest stage of Alzheimer’s showed the most improvement.

Richard Wurtman, the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT and a scientist who has conducted extensive research on the use of these nutrients in cognitive decline, noted that “If you can increase the number of synpases by enhancing their production, you might to some extent avoid that loss of cognitive ability.” Wurtman believes that loss of synapses is at the root cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

An attempt to regrow synapses is a unique approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease. The other two main strategies currently in use focus on the amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brains of people with the disease, and trying to prevent the damage done by toxic substances that build up in the brain of affected individuals.

Three additional studies of the nutrient combination in Alzheimer’s patients are currently being conducted: one in the United States, which includes 500 participants; and two in Europe. Results are not expected until between 2011 and 2013.

Alzheimer’s Association
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jan. 7, 2010
Ramesh Bn et al. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Epub ahead of print)
Feart C et al. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 2010 Jan; 13(1): 14-18