“This is a major breakthrough in the management of Alzheimer’s disease.” So states Professor John Nolan, lead scientist in a new human trial.
He wasn’t talking about a new drug. He was talking about a formula made up of nutrients found in ordinary foods like sardines and spinach.
Another of the study authors, Dr. Alan Howard, goes even further than his colleague, saying their findings are “one of the most important medical advancements of the century.”
Have I got your attention? These claims sure got mine. Let’s take a look…
What’s Good for the Eyes is Good for the Brain
The trial was carried out by University Hospital Waterford and the Nutrition Research Centre, Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland. The purpose was to see whether xanthophyll carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin), omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, and vitamin E, had any impact on the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are probably familiar to many of my readers as eye supplements.
While these xanthophyll carotenoids make up the macular pigment within the eyes, needed for clear central vision, they also occur in high concentrations in the brain. We shouldn’t be surprised. The eyes are actually a direct extension of the brain.
The nutrients’ link with cognition as well as eye health has been demonstrated in a number of studies.
For the new trial, 12 patients with Alzheimer’s took a supplement containing xanthophyll carotenoids. 13 other Alzheimer’s patients (two mild, ten moderate, and one severe) took the same formula together with fish oils and vitamin E. A third group of 15 adults free of dementia acted as a control. They took the carotenoids only.
Eighteen months later, not only did blood carotenoid concentrations rise in the fish oil/vitamin E group, but – apart from one patient who went downhill – caregivers of the Alzheimer’s patients reported improved sight, memory and mood. The patients maintained cognitive abilities and quality of life far beyond those taking carotenoids alone.
This result came as a surprise because the study was initially designed to see if it was possible to boost omega 3 fats in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients, since these tend to be at low levels. The researchers weren’t especially looking for any health impact.
Professor Nolan said Alzheimer’s “is an extremely aggressive disease and it progresses very quickly once it is diagnosed. We have identified the nutrients which are key to brain health. The problem we have is that we don’t have enough of these nutrients.”
As “we live in a time,” he continued, “where the nutritional value of foods continues to decline, I believe this is a valuable discovery that will challenge perceptions worldwide about the role of nutrition on brain function.”
Another member of the research team, Professor Riona Mulcahy, senior lecturer in medicine, added, “This study shows that diet deficiency is key. Science is now helping us understand exactly what nutrients our brains need. It’s a very exciting development.”
Dr. George Perry, Editor in Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in which the study was published, commented, “Nolan’s study of Alzheimer’s disease is the first controlled study of bioavailability and clinical benefit of combined antioxidant therapy and fish oil. This study highlights the power of their earlier studies of the eye to guide studies of the brain.”
Several independent medical experts were asked for their opinion of the study.
They were highly critical. They said the study was too small, fell seriously short of a high quality clinical trial, was nothing more than anecdotal evidence, and the findings were highly unlikely to be valid.
True, the study was small. This is frequently the case in supplement studies because of the enormous expense in mounting controlled human trials. Taken in isolation the enthusiastic comments made by Dr. Nolan and his colleagues seem unwarranted. But the findings of the Waterford group come on the back of many years of their own research as well as researchers in the United States.
Nonetheless, they realize a large, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial is needed to confirm the findings. This is already underway, with the results expected in 2020.
The supplement taken in the trial is called Memory Health and will be released at a future date. In the meantime, for those interested in taking the nutrients used in the trial, the ingredients can be found in other supplements.
The daily formula is: lutein 10 mg, zeaxanthin 10 mg, meso-zeaxanthin 2 mg, DHA 500 mg, EPA 150 mg, natural vitamin E (D-alpha tocopherol) 15 mg.
My only reservation with this formula is that I would take an E supplement that contains a variety of tocopherols and tocotrienols, not just alpha-tocopherol.