Health Supplements for Alzheimer’s Disease
Everybody seems to dread just thinking about Alzheimer’s disease. After all, it is a common cause of dementia or mental decline, for which there is still no cure. Scientists are still finding out the exact cause, and what treatments they can give to improve one’s chances of recovering from it, but for now, experts are recommending various ways to prevent the disease or to optimize one’s function once they are affected by the condition.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease that is usually associated with the elderly. It is characterized mainly by a decline in mental function that manifests as impaired memory and disturbances in perception, reasoning, language and planning. Research suggests that Alzheimer’s disease is a result of an increase in beta-amyloid protein in the brain that leads to death of nerve cells.
Although any adult can develop Alzheimer’s, one’s risk increases after the age of 70, and almost half of all people older than 85 are likely to have it.
Warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- memory loss (most common initial symptom)
- language problems
- difficulty doing familiar tasks
- poor/decreased judgment
- misplacing things
- problems with abstract thinking
- loss of initiative
- mood/behavior changes
- changes in personality
Although many individuals older than 60 experience some memory decline, not all of them will develop Alzheimer’s. The disease is usually diagnosed when a person has sufficient evidence of mental decline to meet the criteria for dementia, a clinical course that is consistent with that of Alzheimer’s, and no other brain disease or condition that can explain the dementia. Therefore, other possible causes of dementia may be screened before diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. Blood tests and imaging exams such as MRI may be done, but these are not specific for identifying the disease.
Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease
There is still no cure for Alzheimer’s, and it remains to be the 6th leading cause of death in the US. People who are diagnosed with the disease usually survive from four to 20 years after their symptoms begin, with an average of eight years from onset. Current treatments cannot stop the disease from progressing, but they can delay the worsening of dementia and help improve quality of life of both the patients and their caregivers. More research is under way to look for better ways to prevent, delay, and treat the disease.
Medications used in the management of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Medications to treat mental decline, which consist of cholinesterase inhibitors like Aricept, Exelon, Cognex, and Razadyne, and memantine, such as Namenda. These drugs help to delay worsening of symptoms of cognitive decline, but do not cure them.
- The management of behavioral changes often involves non-pharmaceutical treatments for agitation, depression, hallucinations, sleep problems and more, but in severe cases, drugs may be used, especially when the patient is in danger of harming himself. These may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and antipsychotic drugs. Sleeping pills may also be prescribed to improve their sleep.
- Alternative Treatments. It must be remembered that prescription drugs have some side effects, and since they do not guarantee improvement of the condition, many doctors and families prefer to manage Alzheimer’s using non-drug treatments and health supplements. Non-drug based treatments involve maximizing the patients’ physical and social abilities to participate in walking, dancing, and singing, which they may still enjoy. Doctors and local Alzheimer organizations may also be able to help patients and families manage things like housekeeping, meals, shopping, and transportation.
There is no specific or special diet prescribed for people with Alzheimer’s disease, but the goals of nutrition are to maintain a healthy weight, stay hydrated, and to prevent constipation (a common condition in the elderly). Experts advise eating small, frequent meals, consisting of nutrient-rich, high fiber foods, and avoiding high fat, high salt, and sugary foods. Supplemental vitamins and minerals are also recommended for optimum health.
Diet Supplements for Alzheimer’s Disease
A growing number of dietary supplements,”medical foods,” and herbal remedies are being promoted to enhance the memory, prevent, treat, or delay Alzheimer’s disease. These include:
- Caprylic acid, a medium-chain triglyceride that is produced from processing coconut or palm kernel oil. Caprylic acid is broken down by the body into “ketone bodies,” which may provide the brain with an alternative energy source, since the brain cells lose their ability to use sugar (the chief energy source) with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Vitamins C and E, which are believed to have antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties, may help prevent brain cell degeneration and reduce one’s risk of dementia.
- Coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant found naturally in the body, is important for normal cell reactions. Although this compound has not been studied for its effectiveness in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, its synthetic version, called idebenone, has been tested for Alzheimer’s disease. However, more research is needed to prove its benefits.
- “Coral” calcium, a form of calcium carbonate believed to be derived from shells of living organisms in coral reefs, contains calcium and traces of additional minerals resulting from the metabolic processes of the animal source. However, it may not offer any extraordinary health benefits.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids that may help reduce in risk of dementia. DHA, the chief omega-3 in the brain, is found in the fatty membranes surrounding the nerve cells, and is also known to have anti-inflammatory effects, which support and protect nerve cell membranes. Its benefits for the heart and blood vessels have also been documented.
- Phosphatidylserine, a kind of fatty component of the nerve cell membranes, is believed to protect the cells from degenerating. Nerve cells are seen to degenerate in Alzheimer’s disease and similar brain disorders for still unknown reasons.
- Ginkgo biloba, a plant extract, contains several compounds that are believed to have positive effects on brain cells. It is thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, that may help protect cell membranes and regulate brain chemical function. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, and is currently being used in Europe to relieve symptoms associated with various neurological conditions.
- Huperzine A, a moss extract, has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. It has properties similar to drugs used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s (cholinesterase inhibitors).
- Tramiprosate, a modified form of an amino acid called taurine, is found naturally in seaweed. Tramiprosate has been tested in a large clinical studies as a possible treatment for Alzheimer’s, but results are inconclusive. More research is needed to support its use.
WebMD. Alzheimer’s Disease – Topic Overview.
MedicineNet. Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s Association. Alternative Treatments.
AJCN. Can vitamin supplements prevent cognitive decline and dementia in old age?