Posted in The Sacramento Bee
There are currently no good medications available to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease, but recent studies on dietary interventions to help improve cognition offer significant hope for people suffering from dementia.
Several years ago, Dr. Richard Wurtman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a mixture of three nutrients that seemed to improve memory in rodents by enhancing the connections of neurons in the brain. These nutrients are DHA, choline, and uridine. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish and walnuts, and is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain. Choline is a nutrient that is part of the B vitamin family and is found in eggs, nuts and meats. Uridine is a protein molecule that is harder to obtain from foods, but can be found in sugar beets and broccoli.
In 2008, a proprietary blend of these nutrients known as Souvenaid was tested in a group of 225 patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease in Europe. Dr. Philip Scheltens, director of the Alzheimer Center at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, led this study, which showed that 40 percent of people taking the Souvenaid beverage every day for three months showed an improvement in verbal memory, compared to only 24 percent of people who drank a placebo beverage.
This month, Dr. Scheltens’ team, which includes Dr. Wurtman, published data from a more extensive study of Souvenaid. A group of 259 people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease were randomized to either Souvenaid or a placebo beverage and were followed for six months. Memory seemed to improve in all participants for the first three months, but after six months only the patients taking Souvenaid continued to improve, while memory in those drinking the placebo beverage deteriorated.
What’s also fascinating about this study is that in addition to memory testing, the researchers also looked at participants’ EEGs to assess brain function and activity. They found that the EEGs of the patients who received the Souvenaid began to shift from dementia-type patterns to more normal patterns as the study progressed.
A new two-year study is now under way in people with mild cognitive impairment to see if Souvenaid can help to prevent progression to dementia. If this trial proves beneficial, it could significantly alter the way in which we approach cognitive impairment — we might be able to treat people with early cognitive changes and hopefully prevent full-blown dementia from developing in the first place, or at least delay it’s onset. This would be a huge advance in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Why does Souvenaid work? DHA, choline, and uridine are all needed to help synthesize proteins known as phosphatides in the membranes of brain cells. Without these healthy phosphatides, brain cells lose their connections to one another and lose their ability to communicate with one another. Souvenaid seems to work by restoring these healthy connections. When used in animal studies, these nutrients also seemed to reduce amyloid plaque in the brain, which is another signature finding in Alzheimer’s disease.
Although Souvenaid is not yet available for purchase, it will be marketed in Europe by the company Nutricia (a division of Dannon) before it is sold in the United States. In the meantime, you can increase your intake of these nutrients by your food choices: wild salmon, sardines, and herring are high in DHA, while liver, wheat germ, and eggs are rich sources of choline. Uridine is harder to come by in food, but may be found in sugar beets, broccoli and beer.
Even though we still have many unanswered questions regarding dementia, it seems clear that nutrition and lifestyle play an important role, and it certainly can’t hurt to begin now to feed your brain with these healthy nutrients.
Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program in Sacramento, Calif. Have a question related to alternative medicine? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
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Copyright The Sacramento Bee 2012
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