Supplements are a controversial topic. Some people swear by them, while others criticize their benefits. With so much conflicting information out there, it’s hard to know what to believe! In this article, we’ll be discussing if supplements can really prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. Read on for more information about the role of nutrition in brain health and how you should make decisions about your own supplement intake based on your personal needs!
I want to highlight right off the bat that, as of right now, there are currently no scientifically backed cures for dementia. This includes supplements! Although there are some supplements, diets, and mental activities that show some evidence of preventing or prolonging the effects of dementia, there just hasn’t been enough testing to know for sure.
However, the supplements I mention in this article are healthy all around. This means that, although they may or may not prevent dementia, they have other major health benefits. Having a deficiency in any of your essential vitamins is unhealthy. Taking supplements for these vitamins can keep you feeling happy and healthy.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a group of debilitating diseases that causes cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects roughly 6.2 million people in just the United States.
These diseases worsen over time, causing individuals to lose their memory, ability to complete activities of daily living, or keep track of people’s names. Eating a healthy diet, exercise, and engaging in mental activities are the most popular ways to reduce or prolong the symptoms of dementia. Although, similar supplements, there still need to be more testing, the current studies around these procedures have yielded the best results.
What Supplements Might Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?
The following supplements are the most likely candidates for preventing Alzheimer’s. Remember that these are only recommendations and the effectiveness needs to be proven through more clinical trials.
Also, keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration does now require manufacturers to provide evidence of the possible risks and benefits of any supplements. Consult your doctor before starting any dietary supplement.
Phosphatidylserine supplements may improve cognitive function in patients who had Alzheimer’s disease, and research continues on whether they could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Several studies have shown improved cognitive function; however, improvement only lasted a few months. It was also only effective in individuals with the least severe symptoms.
Phosphatidylserine was originally derived from the brain cells of cows but because of concerns with Mad Cow Disease, is now manufactured from soy or cabbage. The only studies for dementia treatments used the old supplements. The new supplements have not been tested. Further modern testing is needed to continue focus on the cognitive effects of phosphatidylserine supplements.
One study in 1992 treated 51 patients with Alzheimer’s for 12 weeks with a formulation of phosphatidylserine or placebo. Those treated with the drug saw improved cognitive measures compared to those who were administered the placebo.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 Fatty Acids found in fish oil have been shown to prove an important role in brain function and development. There have been multiple claims stating that fish oil could improve brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, currently, there is no compelling evidence that omega-3 supplements improve brain function in those with Alzheimer’s.
Although, there have been several studies that show taking fish oil supplements could improve cognitive function in those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or age-related cognitive decline.
Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats in the food that are essential for health. They perform a number of jobs, including building cell membranes throughout the body and brain. Past studies have concluded that fish oil supplements are most beneficial for people experiencing early stages of brain function decline. However, if you wait too long, this might not have any effect.
Chronic Coenzyme Q10
Chronic Coenzyme Q10 (CO-Q10), also known as ubiquinone, has the potential to improve brain function in healthy elderly adults through beneficial effects on mitochondrial function, vascular function, and oxidative stress. CO-Q10 is a natural substance that cells use to convert food into energy.
Pre-clinical studies suggest that this supplement could improve memory skills and cognitive abilities, however, a clinical study found no effect on cognitive functions. In the clinical trial, 78 Alzheimer’s patients were administered CO-Q10 supplementation. The patients saw no improvement in cognitive ability after 16 weeks.
In fact, one study by scientists from the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the University of Sothern California found that high doses of CO-Q10 could speed up the loss of cognitive function in aging adults.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha Lipoic Acid (LA) is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that is not usually consumed in the diet. It helps to stop oxidative stress by reducing free radicals and improving energy production within cells. This fatty acid is found in every body cell, which the body uses to convert glucose into energy.
As an antioxidant, it also helps neutralize harmful chemicals called free radicals. As far as the memory component, it has been shown to increase the production of acetylcholine. This is a chemical in the brain that is key to a healthy memory.
A study in 2012 administered a daily dose of alpha-lipoic acid to 11-month-old mice until death. The results indicated that alpha-lipoic acid improved memory and recessed oxidative stress, but ultimately decrease lifespan.
There have been no studies on humans so there is currently not enough data on whether or not LA could reverse the effects of cognitive function.
Vincamine is derived from the seeds of the periwinkle plant. Vinpocetine is a partially synthesized supplement created from vincamine. Currently, Vinpocetine is being used in Japan, Russia, and some European countries to treat cerebrovascular disorders but is not approved in the United States. It is considered safe for most people but does pose risks to certain demographics and long-term effects have not been thoroughly studied.
High-quality studies evaluating the safety and health benefits of Vinpocetine are lacking. In the 1990s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considered Vinpocetine a supplement. However, in 2016, the FDA concluded that it might no longer meet the criteria of being considered a dietary supplement. The FDA has issued warnings that it may be unsafe for pregnant women.
Vinpocetine might have a small effect on the decline of cognitive function, but most studies have only lasted for 4 months or less and were published before 1990. A 2003 Cochrane Review of three studies involving a total of 583 people found that there was no differentiation of effects for degenerative or vascular dementia.
However, there was a very small benefit for patients treated with 30 – 60mg of vinpocetine per day for six months or more.
Huperzine A is a dietary supplement derived from moss. It acts as a cholinesterase inhibitor, which is a type of medicine that improves the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. In particular, this supplement increases the levels of acetylcholine, which is a chemical our nerves use to communicate in the brain.
Small, early studies found evidence that taking oral doses of Huperzine A for up to 6 months could significantly improve cognitive performance for those with Alzheimer’s. However, two systematic reviews found that the quality of the early studies was low and that the evidence should be taken with caution.
Additionally, since the studies only lasted for three months or less, there is a lack of data on the long-term effects of this supplement. Many participants in the studies had adverse side effects, including vomiting.
Resveratrol is a polyphenol – micronutrient extracted from plants that are packed with antioxidants. Resveratrol might treat neurodegenerative disease. It is thought to do this through calorie restriction mimicking effects.
Like other supplements, resveratrol has not had sufficient testing to verify any benefits on memory or cognitive performance. Some preclinical trials suggest that resveratrol may delay the effects of age-related cognitive decline and protect against dementia. However, this was only found in studies on mice and not in humans.
Evidence on resveratrol’s impacts on dementia patients is mixed. In one study, Alzheimer’s patients found a slight positive effect on the ability to complete activities of daily living after one year of high-dose treatments. However, in this study, resveratrol had no effect on several other measures of cognition.
Ginkgo Biloba is commonly thought to slow or prevent age-related memory problems. However, it is unlikely to have any beneficial effects on cognitive ability at all.
Ginkgo Biloba is derived from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree and is a common treatment in Chinese medicine. It improves blood flow to the brain and acts as an antioxidant. Some translate these effects into some benefits for brain function; however, these are premature assumptions.
Based on limited studies, the results of studies on the medical benefits to brain function have been mixed. Some of these studies have shown that ginkgo may help with memory problems caused by dementia but does not prevent it.
Several small studies have shown minor improvement in cognitive function for older adults with dementia. However, larger studies confirm that Ginkgo Biloba has no effect on preventing memory loss or slowing the progression of cognitive decline.
Ginkgo has additional health benefits that might argue it is a good supplement to implement into your diet. These additional benefits include powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammation, and heart health.
Vitamin E is an important part of any healthy diet that primarily protects cells from damage associated with oxidative stress caused by free radicals. High levels of vitamin E have been associated with better cognitive performance.
The ability of Vitamin E to prevent or delay cognitive decline has been tested multiple times in clinical trials focusing on the aging population and those with Alzheimer’s disease. However, it has been difficult to perform these trials with precision, which has led to inconsistent outcomes and much debate.
In one 2014 study involving 561 participants, some participants took daily doses of 2,000 international units of vitamin E per day. The participants with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s Disease who took the vitamin E supplements saw slower function decline compared to those who received a placebo.
Vitamin B12 helps make DNA and keeps nerve cells and red blood cells healthy. Vitamin B12 has been thought of as a treatment for multiple diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and sickle cell disease.
Supplements help people who have a deficiency, which is more likely in those over the age of 50. This is because to lower stomach acid in older adults.
Some studies show a link between vitamin B deficiency and an increased risk of dementia. However, there is no evidence to prove that supplements prevent dementia if you already have an adequate amount of B12.
Regardless of its effects on memory, vitamin B12 is an important part of a healthy diet. If you think you are in a deficit, you should consult a diet about taking supplements.
Vitamin D is an important vitamin for bone strength and osteoporosis prevention. Deficiencies in Vitamin D have been linked with Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, asthma, and arthritis.
In some studies, research shows beneficial effects of supplements for people who already have a deficiency. However, there is no evidence suggesting that vitamin D can help those who intake an adequate amount in their diet already.
The studies suggest that supplements may be helpful in preventing cognitive decline due to its antioxidant properties and ability to regulate levels of calcium neurotransmitters in brain cells for those already in a deficit.
It’s important to keep in mind that these studies only showed a link between vitamin D deficiency and dementia. There is no solid evidence to prove the vitamin D supplements can prevent or delay cognitive decline.
Oxidative stress is associated with causing neuronal damage in the hippocampus area of the brain, which is responsible for memory processing. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties that may reduce oxidative stress in the hippocampus; thus, preventing memory impairment.
The amount of vitamin C in the brain is far greater than the amount in the rest of the body. This is partly because neurons use glucose to power your thoughts and the vitamin’s job is to surrender electrons to neutralize free radicals – rogue oxygen molecules that damage DNA and age your cells.
Regardless of how important Vitamin C is to various brain functions, there has been no evidence to support the idea that supplements could prevent or delay memory loss.
Curcumin is a bright yellow chemical derived from plans of the Curcuma long species. It is one of the most likely treatments for memory impairment and has one the most scientific backing compared to other dietary supplements.
In one double-blind study of 40 people, some participants took 90 mg of curcumin twice a day for 18 months. Every six months, the team behind the study tested the participants for memory, cognition, and mood. Over the course of the tests, memory function in those who had taken curcumin improved by an average of 28%!
Additionally, a scientific review of 25 articles found that curcumin minimizes the effects of short-term and long-term memory impairment. In some studies, curcumin completely reversed MI in rodents.
These studies are promising but there is still more testing that needed. Before adding curcumin to your diet, consult your doctor to get a professional opinion on if it might be the right fit for you.
There is some evidence that certain supplements may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but more research needs to be done before we can say with certainty. If you’re considering taking any of the following supplements or medications, consult your doctor first.
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