By Brittany Mosser
We like options. We scour the Internet looking for the best deals,
the highest rated restaurants and most effective treatments.
With the World Wide Web at our fingertips, an answer is
always within our reach. But can we trust those answers?
If you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you know that there is no cure. Current FDA approved treatments may alleviate or lessen symptoms of the disease for a limited time, but they cannot cure Alzheimer’s. Because of this, many people seek out alternative treatments and preventative measures. Let’s take a look at what we know, and don’t know, about three popular alternative therapies.
- Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is not a structured diet but rather a lifestyle that mirrors traditional eating habits of Greece, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries.
The diets of these countries are rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. We often hear that adhering to a Mediterranean Diet will reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
What do we know?
There is strong evidence that a link exists between a Mediterranean Diet and a reduced risk of heart disease (Estruch et al, 2013; Kastorini et al, 2011).
There is also strong evidence that links poor cardiovascular health with increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease (de Bruijn & Ikram, 2014). Because adherence to a Mediterranean diet may reduce cardiovascular disease, there may be a relationship between incorporating aspects of a Mediterranean diet and future development of dementia. Additionally, multiple observational studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet improves overall health with reduction in rates of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, cancer and cardiovascular disease (Sofi, Cesari, Abbate, Gensini, & Casini, 2008).
Additionally, multiple observational studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet improves overall health with reduction in rates of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, cancer and cardiovascular disease (Sofi, Cesari, Abbate, Gensini, & Casini, 2008).
What don’t we know?
There is no guarantee that following a Mediterranean Diet will prevent you from developing Alzheimer’s disease, or any other type of medical condition. Studies suggesting this are correlation studies so they can suggest a relationship between the two but cannot describe a cause-and-effect relationship (Singh et al, 2013; Sofi et al., 2008).
- Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to prevent memory loss and treat a variety of cognitive impairments. Ginkgo biloba supplements are widely available, even without FDA approval.
Due to Ginkgo biloba’s historical usage and wide availability, many people seeking to prevent memory loss and Alzheimer’s consider Ginkgo biloba.
What do we know?
A randomized, controlled study with a large sample size, the gold standard in clinical research, concluded that Ginkgo biloba does not reduce a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (DeKosky et al, 2008). Those findings have been supported and replicated by others in the field further supporting their validity (Vellas et al, 2012).
What don’t we know?
The majority of research into the relationship between Ginkgo biloba and Alzheimer’s has looked at the role of Gingko bilboa in preventing the development of Alzheimer’s as discussed above. Research continues into any possible effects that Ginkgo may have on moderating symptoms for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias (Tan et al, 2015).
In 2014, the results of a study examining the impact of flavanols on regions of the brain that are critical for creating and storing memories created media frenzy (Brickman et al, 2014).
Because flavanols can be extracted from cocoa beans, many news outlets ran with stories suggesting that chocolate may prevent memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
What do we know?
As much as many of us would like it to be, the 2014 study was not about chocolate. Flavanols occur naturally in many substances including cocoa beans, tea leaves and some fruits. However modern food production processes often result in these items being low in flavanol levels.
What don’t we know?
The findings of the 2014 study, that flavanols appeared to improve function in a region of the brain associated with memory, is intriguing but needs more exploration before any conclusions can be drawn. The study had a small sample size of healthy individuals, rather than people with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. Unfortunately, the results of this study do not mean that we should eat chocolate ad nauseam.
We need hope in the midst of Alzheimer’s. Often, these alternative treatments receive so much attention because they give us hope. We have hope through research that, every day, moves the state of science forward in areas of early detection, diagnosis, and treatment. While these therapies may not be our golden ticket, they present important avenues for research to continue down. Research towards a cure; research that gives us hope.
To learn more about research in the field of Alzheimer’s and to learn about how you can get involved in research, visit http://www.alz.org/research/overview.asp or call 1-800-272-3900.
Brittany Mosser, MSW is the Helpline Coordinator & a Care Consultant at the Western & Central Washington Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. In that role, she provides telephone based support, consultation, and resources to our community members that contact the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.
Estruch, R., Ros, E. Salas-Salvado, J., Covas, M.I., Corella, D., Aros, F., … Martinez-Gonzalez,M.A. (2013). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 368 (14), 1279-1290. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1200303 (link: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1200303)
Kastorini, C., Milionis, H.J., Esposito, K., Giugliano, D., Goudevenos, J.A., & Panagiotakos, D.B. (2011). The effect of Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome and its components. Journal of The American College of Cardiology, 57 (11), 1299-1313. DOI:10.1016/j.jacc.2010.09.073 (link: http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1144261)
de Bruijn, R.F., & Ikram, M.A. (2014). Cardiovascular risk factors and future risk of Alzheimer’s disease. BMC:Medicine, 12 (130). http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/12/130
Sofi, F., Cesari, F., Abbate, R., Gensini, G.F., & Casini, A. (2008). Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: a meta-analysis. BMJ 337. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a1344. (link: http://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/337/bmj.a1344.full.pdf?sid=3858f48d-f1af-4071-8f80-52e6f660ded0)
Singh, B., Parsaik, A.K., Mielke, M.K., Erwin, P.J., Knopman, D.S., Peterson, R.C., & Roberts, R.O. (2013). Association of Mediterranean diet with Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 39 (2), 271-282. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-130830. (link:
DeKosky, S.T., Williamson, J.D., Fitzpatrick, A.L., Kronmal, R.A., Ives, D.G., Saxton, J.A….Furberg, C.D. (2008). Ginkgo biloba for prevention of dementia: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 300 (19), 2253-2262. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2008.683 (link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2823569/)
Vellas, B., Coley, N., Ousset, P.J., Berrut, G., Dartiques, J.F., Dubois, B., …Andrieu, S. (2012). Long-term use of standardised Ginkgo biloba extract for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (GuidAge): a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet Neurology, 11 (10), 851-859. DOI: 10.1016/S1474-4422(12)70206-5
Tan, M.S., Yu, J.T., Tan, C.C., Wang, H.F., Meng, X.F., Wang, C., … Tan, L. (2015). Efficacy and adverse effects of Ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 43 (2), 589-603. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-140837 (link: http://iospress.metapress.com/content/p607u42628223847/)
Brickman, A.M., Khan, U.A., Provenzano, F.A., Yeung, L.K., Suzuki, W., Schroeter, H.,…Small, S.A. (2014). Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults. Nature Neuroscience, 17, 1798-1803. DOI: 10.1038/nn.3850 (link: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v17/n12/abs/nn.3850.html)
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