Credit: Mario Gómez Hernández / Scopio

Breakthrough Irish trial offers ‘significant’ hope for Alzeimher patients

A breakthrough trial on the impact of nutritional supplements on Alzheimer’s sufferers has shown significant improvements in patients’ mood, memory and ability to function, an Irish conference has heard.  

The first trial of its kind, carried out in Waterford, is likely to offer hope to people with the neurodegenerative disease.

The research found that specific nutrients, including vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and carotenoids, are depleted in Alzheimer’s patients but can be improved with nutritional supplementation, which can subsequently enhance Alzheimer’s patients’ quality of life.

According to Professor John Nolan of the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI) at Waterford Institute of Technology, the findings are “significant” for treatment of the neurological condition. Prof Nolan co-led the two-year study mainly in the southeast of Ireland.

“This is not a silver bullet, but this is really important,” he told The Irish Times.  

Prof Nolan said that whilst the results of the trial are not going to ‘fix’ the disease, the information is likely to help with symptoms of the disease.

“We are spending billions of euro on medicines that don’t work in Alzheimer’s disease. We have to use this information now. It is not going to fix this disease but can it help with the symptoms of the disease,” he said.

Prof Nolan, along with Dr. Rebecca Power of the NRCI and Professor Riona Mulcahy of University Hospital Waterford, recruited eighty people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to take part in the trial three years ago; it is the first ever placebo-controlled study into the impact of nutritional supplements.

The patients were predominantly from in and around Waterford, all were aged 65 years or over and had either mild or moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Of the 80 patients, 27 were put on a placebo, while 53 – known as the active group – were given daily supplements of carotenoids, or plant-based pigments, mixed with vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil.

All the nutrients were shown to be depleted in Alzheimer’s patients. However, the study revealed that this can be improved with nutritional supplementation, resulting in “functional improvements” in the patients’ quality of life.

Prof Nolan said the study found a “massive improvement” in the active nutrients, when measured in the blood and skin of patients in the active group.

“Also, importantly for the patients, we measured functional improvement in relation to quality of life,” he said.

“Basically their mood, their ability to function, their memory – these were the types of improvements we were able to pick up – were significantly better in the active group, compared to the placebo. It was a really good outcome for the experiment,” he added.

Prof Nolan presented the positive findings at the 2021 International Brain and Ocular Nutrition Conference and is yet to publish them in a peer-reviewed journal.

“Exceptionally important findings”

Prof Nolan told the Irish Examiner that the trial demonstrates in a clear way that stable and effective doses of natural nutrients help improve a patients’ quality of life.

He added that the findings are “absolutely significant” for science and the Government to support doctors, carers and patients to get access to these important nutrients.

He also said that understanding more about “targeted nutrition and brain function” will allow for the development of “novel pathways to help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease”.

“Following this trial, it is clear that quality of life can be enhanced for patients with Alzheimer’s disease who are provided with stable and effective doses of these natural nutrients, Prof Nolan said in an interview with the Irish Examiner. 

“The whole point of this intervention is the earlier the better. But the fact we can show an improvement even in people with Alzheimer’s disease has to be taken very seriously in the context that this disease has no real successful treatment,” added Prof Nolan.

“These are safe nutrients which have been tested. They are available in plants typically, so they are nature’s way of providing protection throughout our life, but what happens is when we get older we don’t have enough. These are exceptionally important findings,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prof Mulcahy of University Hospital Waterford said the results add to a body of evidence that targets nutrition and can have a positive impact on symptoms and quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We believe that these results warrant large scale multicentre trials in order to continue this essential research and that this goal should be supported by research funding bodies, philanthropy and Government,” she said.

Prof Mulcahy added the study proves there is “real information” about how nutritional intervention can help effectively treat Alzheimer’s patients.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia typified by a pattern of cognitive decline that affects various aspects of the sufferer’s mental health. The disease is gaining recognition as one of the most urgent medical and social problems in older people, with rates of the condition expected to grow sharply in coming years.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, with the prevalence of dementia doubling every 20 years; it is the fourth most common cause of death in the world.

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