by Barbara Morris, R.Ph.
In 2005 the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) awarded 92 grants totaling $17.8 million, pushing the Association’s funding for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) research since 1982 to over $185 million.
Of the 92 grants, just one went to the study of a nutritional supplement. The grant title: “Randomized Trial of a Nutritional Supplement to Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.” The award was for $240,000 over three years. The nutritional supplement was Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine. There are more promising substances the Association could have funded but it’s commendable the Association chose to investigate something potentially useful.
From the grant description: “The researchers will recruit participants through clinics of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease will be randomly assigned to receive either a nutritional supplement or a placebo. . . ” (This is at odds with the grant title, “Randomized Trial of a Nutritional Supplement to Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.” What will it be — research to reduce risk of AD or treatment for those already afflicted?)
I can predict that the results will not be promising. For one thing, the grant description makes clear the study does not focus on prevention. If it did, the outcome might be encouraging. For another thing, studies testing the efficacy of nutritional supplements typically use less than adequate doses. (There is no indication of the potency of the supplement.) A low dose of any antioxidant doesn’t have a chance of stopping AD once it has started.
While AD (mild or full blown) is not reversible, mild cognitive decline is another story. (Mild cognitive decline is characterized as “where did I leave my keys” type of memory lapse). Several physicians have told me they believe AD is preventable if intervention begins extremely early at the onset of mild cognitive decline or before. And then, only if a program of aggressive and adequate amounts of antioxidants and other dietary supplements are given along with an optimum diet rich in antioxidants.
Prevailing thought says that accumulation of “plaques and tangles” in the brain may be a cause of AD. A scientist at a major university, who believes the “plaques and tangles” theory is flawed, spoke up at a meeting of his peers and was promptly hooted down for his unorthodox thinking. And what might that thinking be? He believes that finding a remedy for “oxidative stress” (free radical activity) that results in the formation of “plaques and tangles”– merits more aggressive research.
One must wonder: Why isn’t more grant money awarded to the plethora of small nutritional studies conducted at universities all over the world that show incredible promise for prevention of AD?
This is not to disparage attempts to find a cure. Certainly, anything that could reverse this dread disease would be welcome. But surely, wouldn’t it be preferable to find a way to prevent it? Shouldn’t there be equal research emphasis on prevention as well as a cure?
Meet Dr. Bruce Ames: Is he on to something?
A Press Release, UC Berkeley, February 19, 2002 headline: “Dietary Supplements make old rats youthful, may help rejuvenate aging humans, according to UC Berkely study.”
It went on to explain that “A team of researchers led by Bruce N. Ames, professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, fed older rats two chemicals normally found in the body’s cells and available as dietary supplements: acetyl-L-carnitine and an antioxidant, alpha-lipoic acid.”
“With the two supplements together, these old rats got up and did the Macarena,” said Ames, also a researcher at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI). “The brain looks better, they are full of energy – everything we looked at looks more like a young animal.”
“Based on the group’s earlier studies, the University of California patented use of the combination of the two supplements to rejuvenate cells. Ames, through the Bruce and Giovanna Ames Foundation . . . founded a company in 1999 called Juvenon to license the patent from the university. Juvenon currently is engaged in human clinical trials of the combination.”
The work was supported by grants from the Ellison Foundation, the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health, the Wheeler Fund of the Dean of Biology at UC Berkeley, the Bruce and Giovanna Ames Foundation and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center at UC Berkeley.
What’s missing in the above paragraph? There is no mention of drug company funding. Thankfully, the government funds some prevention oriented research, but it’s piddling compared to the amount of money donated by drug companies for traditional research geared to finding a cure. And that makes sense. Drug companies are profit oriented. There is no profit in prevention with dietary supplements purchased without a prescription.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait for AD to strike. Beef up your antioxidant intake and learn how to improve your diet for maximum prevention benefit. Starting as early in life as possible increases chances of staying mentally sharp in mature years.