Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common cause of dementia, is one of the biggest medical challenges of our time. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.7 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018.
Although the search for effective ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease has been going on for decades, there have not been many success stories. There is, however, a growing body of scientiﬁc evidence suggesting that enrichment of certain nutritional compounds in the brain may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
An 18-month study coming out of Ireland may have identified a unique combination of nutrients that slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The pilot study examined the effects of nutritional compounds found in foods such as broccoli, trout and peppers, on people with the condition, and revealed a ‘statistically significant’ find. The trial was conducted by experts at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland in collaboration with University Hospital Waterford (UHW), and included people diagnosed with AD from a mild to advanced stage. The results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (JAD) in June, 2018.
In interviews on Friday, September 21st, Professor John Nolan and Professor Riona Mulcahy will discuss the prevalence and effects of Alzheimer’s disease, the findings of this promising study, the need for further research, and the significance of nutrition and dietary supplements in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some Q and A’s:
How prevalent is this disease in the US and in the World?
An estimated 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease today and by 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million. It is the 6th leading cause of death in America, with one person diagnosed every minute, and two-thirds of these are women. The morbidity and mortality from Alzheimer’s disease continues to rise in the United States and there is currently no prevention or cure of the disease despite millions invested into research.
The condition affects 46 million people worldwide and is projected to affect 130 million by the year 2050.
Alzheimer’s places a huge burden on the health care system, with direct annual care costs exceeding a quarter of a trillion dollars. It also impacts on the wider family and community, with 16.1 million Americans providing unpaid care for people with dementia (indirect care).
What are the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
In its early stages, the main symptom is difficulty with short term memory. Someone with early Alzheimer’s Disease may forget about recent conversations or events, misplace items, have trouble thinking of the right word and could ask questions repetitively. There are often signs of mood changes too, such as increasing anxiety or agitation, or periods of confusion.
In its advanced stages, someone with the condition may struggle to recognise family and friends and become increasing confused. They may display obsessive, repetitive or impulsive behaviour including delusions, paranoia and hallucinations.
Disease progression ultimately leads to difficulty eating and swallowing (dysphagia), difficulty changing position or moving around without assistance, weight loss, incontinence, gradual loss of speech and significant problems with short and long-term memory.
Alzheimer’s progresses slowly over several years. Sometimes symptoms are confused with other conditions or may be incorrectly attributed to old age. The rate at which symptoms progress is different for each individual.
Tell us about the study you conducted?
Over 15 years of scientific study has proven the key role of nutrition in the human brain and our exploratory trial builds on valuable research into how nutrients have the potential to impact on brain function.
We have identified a specific combination of nutrients that can deliver benefits in memory, sight and mood to Alzheimer’s patients, based on carer reports. The dietary components that we are examining include Xanthophil Carotenoids and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are available in common foods such as trout, spinach, kale, broccoli and peppers. The nutrients were offered to our trial participants in the form of a dietary supplement called Memory Health.
Why do you think these nutritional compounds have shown a positive effect?
The brain is an incredible organ that orchestrates a huge number of functions including movement, memory, emotion, hearing, speech and regulation of temperature etc. The brain therefore has a very high oxygen demand to facilitate this vast array of activity. As a result of this high oxidative activity (cells taking on oxygen), unstable molecules called reactive oxygen species are produced. Science has looked at a range of nutrients that have antioxidant properties. Carotenoids are known to have potent antioxidant activity and help balance the pro oxidant and antioxidant activity in the brain and therefore reducing cell damage.
In this study, combining Xanthophil Carotenoids with a specially-designed fish oil has increased serum and macular concentrations of carotenoids. This unique nutritional formulation has led to exciting findings in Alzheimer’s patients.
Will changing your diet help prevent this disease? Why were the nutrients delivered as a supplement?
It is well documented that specific foods play a neuro-protective role, shielding the brain from harm. Brain cells don’t regenerate like other cells in the human body, so safeguarding them is vital .Up-to-date best medical advice suggests that you can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s through moderate alcohol intake, not smoking, being physically and mentally active, and eating a well-balanced diet. Our work shows that diet deficiency is key.
The incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is lower in some countries with fish based diets such as Okinowa, off the coast of Japan and other areas of Japan. Alzheimer’s disease here is up to 20-30% lower and is thought to be down to genetics as well as a high level of exercise and diets that are rich in flavenoids, beans and fish. There is also lower levels of AD in countries that have a Mediterranean style diet. In contrast, counties where obesity and raised BMI is higher, the levels of Alzheimer’s disease also tend to be higher.
Unfortunately we live in a time when the nutritional value of foods continues to decline. Based on our studies, it’s simply not possible to get enough of these nutrients through a healthy, balanced diet alone – which is why we delivered the formula to our patients as a dietary supplement.
Are there plans for additional research?
The findings from our initial pilot are being further investigated in a larger-scale, double-blind, placebo controlled, clinical trial called re-MIND (Memory Intervention with Nutrition for Dementia), which is now underway in Europe with 120 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease and will report its findings in 2020. It is hoped the study will be extended to international research partners too.
Where can we go for more information?
For further information on the studies, visit the website of Professor John Nolan, founder of the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland: www.profjohnnolan.com
Details of the dietary supplement used in the trial, Memory Health, is available at: www.memoryhealth.com