Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Sep 1998

Symptoms or Causes?

Alzheimer's research underscores a wide variety of treatments for the brain.

Curing one may be almost as good curing the other

Perhaps no aspect of aging is as feared as mental decline. Life Extension Magazine has published numerous articles on ways to keep the aging brain healthy and happy, and has published the results of cutting-edge research about treatments for Alzheimer's disease, which causes dementia and death.

This summer, scientists reported progress in diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's disease. Research focused on a protein called amyloid beta, which in Alzheimer's becomes deformed, and is found in deposits called plaques and in stringy tangles in the brain. Claudio Soto, of New York University Medical Center, and his colleagues have created a type of protein, called iAb5, which (in a test tube) stopped the stringy tangles from forming, dissolved existing fiber, and blocked brain cell death caused by amyloid beta.

This spring, researchers at Case Western Reserve University identified beta amyloid as the first step in Alzheimer's deterioration. Further, scientists at Queen's University and Neurochem Inc., in Kingston, Ontario, have found about 100 small organic molecules that bind to the beta amyloid, which may prevent it from developing into insoluble plaque.

The mechanisms by which amyloid beta and other Alzheimer's phenomena are thought to work are detailed in the 1998 edition of the Life Extension's central reference book, Disease Prevention and Treatment. As with most breakthroughs, there are barriers to immediate success. No one really knows if amyloid is a cause of Alzheimer's or is merely a symptom. Also, the process is difficult to test in the normal way on lab animals, because animals don't seem to get Alzheimer's disease. But progress is progress.

Whether we're dealing with causes or symptoms may be of minor importance to those trying to live with a friend or relative (or themselves) exhibiting mental decline. Alzheimer's-like symptoms can be found in a number of illnesses-even in nutritional deficiency-and many of these symptoms are treatable. Among the treatments are the antioxidant vitamin E, which can block the free-radicals produced by amyloid beta; substances that promote strong, healthy blood circulation in the brain, such as Ginkgo biloba; acetyl-L-carnitine, piracetam, Hydergine and coenzyme Q10, which can help boost brain cell energy levels; deprenyl and vitamin B12, which can elevate dopamine levels and enhance neurological function; and melatonin, DHEA and pregnenolone, for replacing important depleted hormones. There's more, detailed in Disease Prevention and Treatment.

The quest to find a cure for Alzheimer's may settle down into a long-term attack on symptoms, which also is the current philosophy driving cancer research. Win enough battles, and a won war may well follow.

SPEAKING OF MENTAL ENHANCEMENT, choline, a precursor to the chemical neurotransmitter acetylcholine, has been recommended by the Foundation for its memory-enhancing properties. Now, the Food and Nutrition Board (the group that sets recommended dietary allowances for vitamins and minerals) has officially recognized choline as an "essential" nutrient.

Its recommended RDA is 550 mg for adult men, and 425 mg for women, although Life Extension recommends 2,500 mg to 10,000 mg a day (along with lecithin and phosphatidylcholine) for maximum improvement in brain function. The Board also recommends choline intake for pregnant and lactating women because of a high requirement for choline in growing fetuses and infants. (Additional lecithin supplementation provides a form of "timed-release" choline.) Choline also is important for liver function-in fact, the most readily observed effect of dietary choline deprivation in humans is liver damage-and may play a role in maintaining heart health, preventing cancer, and improving physical performance.

-Christopher Hosford


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