Life Extension Update
Brain cocktail proposed by MIT team
In a report published in the May 9, 2006 issue of the journal Brain Research, a team led by Richard Wurtman, who is the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor of Neuropharmacology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, revealed that a cocktail of dietary supplements could delay some of the decline in cognitive function that occurs in Alzheimer's disease. The findings will be presented at the International Academy of Nutrition and Aging 2006 Symposium on Nutrition and Alzheimer's Disease/Cognitive Decline in Chicago on May 2.
Wurtman's team added the B vitamin choline, uridine (a compound found in RNA and human breast milk), and omega-3 fatty acids to the diets of gerbils. The compounds are necessary for the production by brain neurons of phospholipids which help make up the cell membrane. While the administration of either omega-3 fatty acids or uridine plus choline were effective, researchers found the greatest increase in the amount of membranes that form brain cell synapses (which connect neurons) in mice who received all three compounds. Damage to these connections is currently believed to result in dementia. It had previously been theorized that the amyloid plaques and tangles found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients were responsible for the decline in cognitive function observed in the disease, but scientists are now questioning whether they are the main cause of dementia.
The "cocktail" is currently being tested in ongoing human trials. If effective, it won’t be a cure for Alzheimer's disease, but could be useful as a long term treatment. The hypothesis that the compounds increase the formation of synaptic membranes is supported by studies conducted at MIT and Cambridge which have shown that uridine or omega-3 fatty acids promote the growth of neurites, which are outgrowths of the neurons' cell membranes.
"It's been enormously frustrating to have so little to offer people that have (Alzheimer's) disease," Dr Wurtman commented. "If it works as well on the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease as it does in laboratory animals, I think there will be a lot of interest."
There is a desperate need for a new approach to Alzheimer’s. It is already a significant health problem and the most common cause of dementia, and will get worse as the population ages, according to experts from the National Institute of Aging. Over the past 25 years, the number of patients who have Alzheimer’s disease has doubled, and the incidence is expected to increase in coming decades as the US population ages (ADEAR 2004).
Sadly, while Alzheimer’s disease continues to claim more victims, evidence is building that some of the best therapies to slow its progression and lower the risk of developing the disease are being ignored.
Over the past 10 years, scientific studies have revealed the remarkable effects that fish consumption has on neurological function. Fish oils contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are omega-3 oils. DHA is essential to brain health because it constitutes between 30 and 50 percent of the total fatty acid content of the human brain (Young G et al 2005).
Deficiencies in DHA have been linked to cognitive decline, and human cell studies have shown that DHA reduces beta-amyloid secretion (Lukiw WJ et al 2005). DHA has been documented to increase phosphatidylserine, a naturally occurring component found in every cell membrane of the body (Akbar M et al 2005). DHA may also improve the memory of animals with Alzheimer's disease by suppressing oxidative damage in the brain (Hashimoto M et al 2005). In a 10-year study that tracked the DHA levels of 1188 elderly subjects, Alzheimer's disease was 67 percent more likely to develop in those whose DHA levels were in the lower half of the distribution (Kyle DJ et al 1999).
Scientists have recently developed a compound that takes DHA and binds it to a lecithin extract that has itself been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly. Laboratory studies document that this patented compound delivers higher DHA concentrations to brain cells.
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