Monday, June 25, 2012

Combating Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a form of dementia in the elderly which affects more than 4.5 million Americans. This progressive brain disease slowly deteriorates cognitive memory and thinking skills, resulting in severe brain damage and eventually death (2). There is no known cure for AD, but there are conventional drugs therapies that when prescribed in the early stages of the disease may limit or delay symptoms for a short period of time. Moreover, research is ongoing to understand natural preventative therapies, such as dietary supplements, which may prove to be beneficial in delaying, slowing the progression of, or even reversing Alzheimer's disease (3).
Dietary Supplement:
What the Science Says:
Cautions and Side Effects:
While the NIH and NCCAM are currently involved in extensive research on antioxidants, there is currently not enough scientific evidence to determine whether antioxidants are effective for the treatment and  prevention of AD.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) continue to be studied for their potential role in slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
According to the FDA - omega-3 dietary supplements from fish are "generally recognized as safe," when consumed at low-to-moderate doses
- Side effects may include minor GI upset (diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion, and abdominal bloating)
- May interact with blood thinners and drugs used to treat high blood pressure.
Asian Ginseng
(Panax Ginseng)
An adaptogen, this herb has been used for centuries for stress and heart health. NCCAM supports research on Asian ginseng’s potential effects on insulin resistance, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. To date, only a few large, high-quality clinical trials have been conducted. Most evidence is preliminary (based on laboratory research or small clinical trials) so NCCAM can not provide any conclusive support for health claims associated with the herb at this time.
Short-term use at recommended doses appears to be safe.
- Side effects of prolonged use may include headaches, sleep problems, GI upset and allergic reactions.
- May lower levels of blood sugar (caution for diabetes and will concurrent use of medications / supplements that lower blood sugars)
Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa)
The National Institute on Aging has funded a study that looked at how cat's claw may benefit the immune system and  brain function. Findings may point to new avenues for research in Alzheimer's disease treatment. However, currently, there is not enough scientific evidence to determine the effect of cat's claw works on AD.
When taken at recommended doses, few side effects have been reported for cat's claw.
- Rare side effects include headaches, dizziness, and vomiting.
- Cat’s claw has been used in the past for preventing and aborting pregnancy, therefore, women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid it.
- Cat's claw is believed to stimulate the immune system, so it should be used with much caution in anyone with immune conditions.
- May interfere with post-surgical blood pressure control.
(Ginkgo biloba)
With anti-microbial and anti-tubercular actions, G. biloba has been used for centuries for memory enhancement and cognitive function.
The Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory study (NCCAM funded) was a large study with over 3,000 volunteers age 75 and over who took 240 mg of ginkgo daily, and were followed for an average of 6 years. The study found Ginkgo ineffective in slowing cognitive decline and in lowering the overall incidence of AD.
A National Institute on Aging study of more than 200 healthy adults over age 60 also found that ginkgo taken for 6 weeks did not improve memory. Some smaller studies of ginkgo for memory enhancement have had promising results.
Products made from standardized ginkgo leaf extracts appear to be safe when used orally and appropriately. Fresh (raw) ginkgo seeds contain large amounts of ginkgotoxin, which can cause serious adverse reactions, including seizures and death.
- Side effects may include headache, nausea, GI upset, diarrhea, dizziness, or allergic skin reactions.
- May increase bleeding risk (caution pre-surgery or with bleeding disorders)

Grape Seed Extract
Rich in flavonoids, linolic acid, and proanthocyanidins, the extract has been shown to reduce inflammation, high blood pressure, platelet aggregation, and lipid oxidation; as well as reducing the risk of cancer and inhibiting the growth of tumors.  NCCAM is currently studying whether the action of grape seed extract may treat or help prevent AD.  Although some studies indicate positive benefits, more research is needed in this area.

Grape seed extract is water soluble and generally well tolerated when taken orally.
- Side effects may include a dry itchy scalp, dizziness, headache, high blood pressure, hives, indigestion, and nausea.
- Interactions between grape seed extract and other medications and supplements have not been well studied.
When considering supplements for the prevention or slowing the progression of Alzheimer's, it is important to work with a trained physician adept at working in the field of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  It is also very important to pick a reliable manufacturer/supplier from which the supplements come from.  The supplements should be free of pesticides, organic if possible, and made with only high quality ingredients.  Solubility and absorption are both essential aspects of any supplement.  The manufacturer should obtain all ingredients via responsible and sustainable methods.  When possible, ask for the manufacturer's white paper on the specific supplement and discuss it with the CAM provider.  Most CAM providers will recommend or even prescribe a combination of supplements which will all work synergistically together in order to provide the optimum benefits possible.      

1. Alzheimer’s Disease and CAM: What the Science Says. NCCAM Clinical Digest. Available at Retrieved 10/22/11
2. What is Alzheimer’s Disease. National Institute on Aging. Available at Retrieved 10/22/11.
3. Alzheimer’s Disease and CAM. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Available at Retrieved 10/22/11