Cambridge, Mass.-Despite it sounding like science fiction, a nutritional elixir of the future may one day help restrain the onset of Alzheimer's.
According to researchers at MIT, Alzheimer's patients typically suffer a major loss of synapses-brain connections necessary for memory and information processing. By combining three naturally occurring nutrients believed to promote growth of those connections, the researchers created a cocktail that has shown the potential to improve memory for those with Alzheimer's.
The cocktail is composed of uridine, choline, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA-all of which are normally present in breast milk-plus other ingredients (B vitamins, phosopholipids, and antioxidants). In a clinical trial of 225 patients, researchers discovered improved verbal memory in patients with mild Alzheimer's who took the cocktail.
“If you can increase the number of synapses by enhancing their production, you might to some extent avoid that loss of cognitive ability,” says Richard Wurtman, the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, who did the basic research that led to the new experimental treatment. He is an author of a paper describing the new results in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia. (Visit http://www.ltlmagazine.com/AlzCocktailStudy to be directed to the article.)
Wurtman says the three nutrients in his dietary cocktail are precursors to the fatty molecules that make up brain cell membranes, which form synapses. The researcher has documented his belief that the root cause of Alzheimer's is the loss of synapses.
Three additional clinical studies in Alzheimer's patients are now underway, one in the United States and two in Europe. Results are expected to be available between 2011 and 2013.
In the first clinical trial, patients who received the nutrients showed a statistically significant level of improvement compared to control subjects: 40% of the treated patients improved performance in a test of verbal memory (memory for words, as opposed to memory of locations or experiences) known as the Wechsler Memory Scale, while 24% of patients who received the control drink improved their performance. Among those who received the cocktail, patients with the mildest cases of Alzheimer's showed the most improvement.
The drink appeared to have no effect on patients' performance in another commonly used evaluation for Alzheimer's, the ADAS-cog test. Wurtman says he believes that is because ADAS-cog is a more general assessment that tests for orientation and movement/spatial memory as well as cognition.
Long-Term Living 2010 February;59(2):11-13