Could Supplements Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer's?

Could taking your vitamins be the key to preventing Alzheimer's disease? It might if you're also dedicated to other healthy lifestyle habits. Which supplements are linked to better brain health and preventing dementia?

The Alzheimer's Association defines Alzheimer's disease as a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. It's the most common type of dementia and it is not considered a normal part of aging. Most people who get Alzheimer's are affected after age 65 though a small percentage get early-onset Alzheimer's disease with symptoms becoming apparent in their 40s or 50s. Currently, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's, which is the 6th leading cause of death. Countless others are affected as family members and caretakers. 

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease there are treatments available and an increasing amount of attention is being paid to prevention measures. Diet and exercise are proving particularly important. Specifically, consuming a Mediterranean Diet that includes vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals, fish, olive oil, mild to moderate amounts of alcohold and low amounts of saturated fats, dairy, meatd and poultry is linked with a 28 percent lower risk of developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and a 48 percent lower risk of progressing from MCI to Alzheimer's disease. 

In addition, scientists are also looking at specific supplements and vitamins as helpful in preventing Alzheimer's disease, for example, DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in salmon and other fish. Studies in mice bred to have features of Alzheimer's found that DHA reduced abnormal protein deposits in the brain commonly seen with Alzheimer's disease. No clinical trials have demonstrated a direct link between DHA consumption and Alzheimer's prevention, but there's evidence it might be helpful if started before symptoms develop.

Antioxidants are natural substances found in food and supplements that are thought to fight damage caused by molecules called free radicals. As we age, free radicals can build up in nerve cells and cause damage that might contribute to Alzheimer's. Some studies suggest consuming antioxidants might prevent this damage from occurring and might therefore lower risks for Alzheimer's. To date, however, no studies have proven this direct link. 

According to the National Institute on Aging, resveratrol—a compound found in red grapes and supplements—appears to have properties that may help protect the brain. Observational studies have shown that moderate consumption of red wine is associated with lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease, and animal studies have shown that resveratrol can reduce beta-amyloid deposits in the brain. Resveratrol also appears to affect the biological processes of aging-related diseases including Alzheimer's. NIA will conduct studies to see if resveratrol can prevent Alzheimer's. (a non-profit organization providing resource information on mental health issues) says that folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil are believed to preserve and improve brain health. Studies of vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, coenzyme Q10, and turmeric have yielded less conclusive results, but may also be beneficial in the prevention or delay of Alzheimer's and dementia symptoms. Dennis Bley, DO, Internal Medicine at Broadway Medical Clinic in Portland, OR says, "Earlier studies indicate that vitamin E actually can do damage, especially in smokers, so we now recommend against taking it as a supplement."

While supplements may help prevent this tragic disease, at this time, the best defense for a healthy brain appears to be linked to diet and exercise, not vitamins that come in pill form. If you're interested in covering all your bases though, ask your doctor to recommend specific supplements that are appropriate for you.

Dennis Bley, DO, reviewed this article.



National Institute on Aging
Preventing Alzheimer's Disease: What Do We Know?
Alzheimer's Disease Prevention

Alzheimer's Association