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Will Nutrients Slow Deterioration from Alzheimer Disease?

A pilot study in Ireland suggests that supplementing with a mix of carotenoids and fish oil can slow deterioration from Alzheimer disease.
Will Nutrients Slow Deterioration from Alzheimer Disease?
Brain decline and dementia or aging as memory loss concept for brain cancer decay or an Alzheimer’s disease with the medical icon of a old rusting mechanical gears and cog wheels of metal in the shape of a human head with rust.

Could nutritional supplements delay the deterioration from Alzheimer disease? A pilot study from Ireland suggests this might be possible (Nolan et al, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, June 2018).

Carotenoids Plus Fish Oil Put to the Test:

The researchers gave 25 patients with Alzheimer disease a mix of carotenoid compounds similar to those contained in supplements used to slow the progression of macular degeneration. Carotenoids are precursors to vitamin A and are found in yellow, orange and green vegetables.

Twelve of the patients took the carotenoid formulation for 18 months, while 13 of them took carotenoids plus 1 g of fish oil for the same year and a half. The fish oil provided 430 mg docohexaenoic acid (DHA) and 90 mg eicopentaenoic acid (EPA) per day.

The scientists measured carotenoid concentrations in blood as well as levels of omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil. Although both groups were taking the same quantities of carotenoids, blood levels of these compounds were measurably higher among the volunteers who also took fish oil.

Fish Oil and Carotenoids Boost Brain Function:

Even more exciting, the family members caring for the 13 Alzheimer disease patients getting the combination of fish oil and carotenoids reported improvements in vision, mood and memory. They saw significantly less deterioration from Alzheimer disease than those caring for the participants taking carotenoids alone.

The investigators are planning to extend this pilot study into a much larger, randomized, controlled trial they will call re-Mind. They point out that previous epidemiological research has shown that nutrition is important in reducing the risk of Alzheimer disease, but scientists have had trouble pinpointing which nutrients are most important. This trial certainly suggests that carotenoids together with fish oil deserve a closer look.

The study was too small, however, to demonstrate that these truly are the only relevant nutrients. In addition, past research has shown that smokers who take beta carotene are more vulnerable to lung cancer. We don’t know if other carotenoids carry the same risk, but they may. Entrepreneurs offering an OTC formulation they call MemoryHealth appear to be jumping the gun.

The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

The research we have reviewed over the years indicates that Alzheimer disease has multiple causes. In general, activities that are good for the heart, such as physical exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight and avoiding excess sugar, also appear to benefit the brain. But we have not seen that a single intervention can truly slow the deterioration from Alzheimer disease. It seems that we may need a multifactorial approach. To learn more, you may wish to listen to our recent interview with Dr. Dale Bredesen. It is Show 1092: How Can You Overcome Alzheimer Disease?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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