Expert opinion has begun rolling in on the study suggesting a cocktail of nutrients may help delay or reverse some of the memory loss that comes with Alzheimer's disease. Don't put an umbrella in that drink yet, they say: It's not quite ready to be served.
"I don't make much of it," says Dr. Paul Aisen, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study and professor of medicine at UC San Diego. Aisen complained that changes in the way the study's authors analyzed their data "rendered the results questionable." Aisen, who has overseen research on a number of nutrients and their impact on Alzheimer's disease, found early research on the use of choline, uridine and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids to be "interesting." But like most efforts to discover drugs or dietary nutrients for Alzheimer's, early promise "has not translated into clinical findings."
"We're optimistic, and so far, we've been disappointed," said Aisen.
UCLA neurologist John Ringman called the findings "promising but inconclusive." The fact that subjects taking the "Souvenaid" cocktail registered improvements in cognitive function on only one of several measures used "was a little disappointing," said Dr. Ringman, who is assistant director of UCLA's Mary Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research.
Earlier studies showed the nutrient supplement boosted production of synapses in lab animals' brains. But Dr. Ringman cautions that "many, many things that work in animal models don't pan out in humans." While he acknowledges that he supplements his own diet with Omega-3 fish oil, Ringman recommends his patients with memory loss or dementia take a "buyer beware" stance on dietary supplements.
UCLA Alzheimer's Disease researcher Sally A. Frautschy said the idea of nutritional support for Alzheimer's patients is a good one, since elderly patients are frequently undernourished and have poor appetites. But the study's limited results "suggest the cocktail at present isn't sufficient" to slow or reverse established Alzheimer's disease. It still might show promise in forestalling symptoms of Alzheimer's disease before they show up, or early in the illness, said Frautschy.
-- Melissa Healy