March 24, 2010
It's an intriguing hypothesis: drink a cocktail with brain-boosting nutrients and see memory and thinking skills improve. That's the theory being tested of an experimental nutritional drink that aims to boost the cognitive abilities of those with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.
The study, being conducted at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and at 40 medical centers across the country, is looking at a "medical food" called Souvenaid that contains various nutrients that may help improve brain health. The drink contains choline, a key component of the brain chemical, acetylcholine, which plays a major role in memory; DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils; and uridine, a component of the genetic material RNA. All three substances are thought to play a role in fostering the connections between brain cells.
"Our primary goal is to see whether Souvenaid can slow the worsening of memory difficulties in persons with mild to moderate Alzheimer's who are already taking approved treatments for the disease, " said Dr. Raj Shah, medical director of the Rush Memory Clinic and one of the study's lead investigators.
An earlier study in Europe found that the nutritional drink improved people's ability to do well on verbal memory tests. In that study, 225 men and women in the early stages of Alzheimer's were divided into two groups. Half drank Souvenaid daily, while the others got a look-alike placebo drink. After 12 weeks, those getting the nutritional mixture did better on memory tests.
As with existing medications for Alzheimer's, the drink is not a cure for Alzheimer's. Rather, researchers are hoping that it might boost thinking skills. Even modest improvements in recall may make day-to-day activities easier to carry out for those affected by Alzheimer's.
The drink, which is not available in stores, appears to be safe, but further studies in larger numbers of people need to be conducted. Many pills and nutritional supplements show promise in early testing but do not pass the test of proof in larger studies.
The current study will enroll 500 men and women with early Alzheimer's who are taking an approved medication for the disease. Half will drink 4 oucnes of the drink daily, while the others get a placebo, for 24 weeks. Neither group will know whether they are drinking Souvenaid or the other beverage.
Researchers will test whether the participants getting the nutritional supplements do better on tests designed to measure memory, language, attention, concentration, executive function, information processing and recall.
Rush University Medical Center.