Nutraceuticals offer hope on World Alzheimer's Day

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alzheimer, Nutrition

On World Alzheimer's Day it is worth reflecting on the potential
for research into food and dietary supplement ingredients to one
day stave off the debilitating disease.

More than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, and the direct and indirect cost of Alzheimer care is over $100bn. The neurodegenerative disease is mainly found in people over the age of 65 and is caused by protein fragment plaques and twisted fibers. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's, leaving room for researchers in the dietary supplement field to find any links that could help with nutritional guidelines geared towards those living with the condition or at risk of getting it. According to the Alzheimer's Association, some doctors already prescribe vitamin E as a treatment for the disease. A large study showed that vitamin E slightly delayed loss of ability to carry out daily activities and placement in residential care. The nutrient most often cited in relation to the disease is vitamin E. In 2002, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association​ (JAMA) suggested a diet rich in foods containing vitamin E could help protect some people against the disease. Interestingly, the same was not found for consumption as a supplement. The study examined the effects of various antioxidants on 815 people who were already part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP), consisting of a diverse community of people aged 65 and older. By the end of the study period, around 131 participants had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The most significant protective effect was found among people in the top fifth of dietary vitamin E intake (averaging 11.4 IU/d), whose risk of Alzheimer's was 67 per cent lower when compared to people in the group with the lowest vitamin E consumption from food (averaging 6.2 IU/d). But as with many diseases, eating well in general could slow the progression of Alzheimer's. A study published in this month's issue of Neurology​, found that those Alzheimer's patients in their research who adhered to a Mediterranean diet were 76 percent less likely to die during the study period. New York's Columbia University Medical Center researchers had observed 192 Alzheimer sufferers for four and a half years. The findings are the latest in a string of health benefits linked to the eating plan of the people of southern Europe. This diet is rich in cereals, wine, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil. Its main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, polyphenols, and essential minerals. In this case, the researchers suggested It is these antioxidants and polyphenols that appear to offer protection. In the past, omega-3 fatty acids have also been reported to potentially slow mental decline in people with very mild Alzheimer's disease. And this year, a study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry​ linked the lipids to an improvement in symptoms of agitation and depression. The authors were unclear as to how the omega-3 fatty acids may interfere with the development of the disease, but suggested the benefits may be linked to the fish oil's anti-inflammatory effects. Another study published this year associated eating a diet rich in blueberries to reducing the severity of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's. The research, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging​, indicated rats that were fed a blueberry supplemented diet had enhanced behavioral performance as measured using performance in a 14-unit T-maze. The scientists reported that the blueberry-fed animals experienced significantly less brain cell loss, and had more viable brain cells following oxidative stress.

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