The Best Hope for Alzheimer’s

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Alzheimer’s Disease: No Time To Wait For New Drugs Before This Brain Disease Bankrupts Medicare; Best Hope Are Dietary Supplements

by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi

Would somebody kindly provide Charlton Heston a resveratrol pill? Or maybe some folic acid, vitamin E, ginkgo biloba, carnitine or the Chinese herbal called huperzine.

The actor, best known for his role as Moses in the movie The Ten Commandments (1956), is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, and another 18 million people worldwide suffer with him. Furthermore, an additional 1 million individuals will be added to the ranks of Alzheimer’s sufferers annually until a way is developed to slow or reverse this debilitating brain disease.

The Bible says the real Moses "was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated." [Book of Deuteronomy 34:7] Moses’ enduring health and vitality may have been derived from a sparse diet. The Bible not only indicates Moses endured three prolonged periods of fasting, he also was subjected to the limited calorie diet of manna (described as something like coriander seed that came with the morning dew). [Book of Exodus 24:18; Book of Deuteronomy 9: 9,18, 25 and 10:10; Exodus 16:31] Moses’ flock yearned for the fish, melons and cucumbers they ate in Egypt. Now all they had was the boring manna, which they baked in pans and made cakes of it. [Book of Numbers 11: 4—9]

Sparse diet or red wine for the brain

Today, unusual health and longevity is attributed to calorie restriction. It has recently been discovered that calorie restriction activates the Sirtuin 1 DNA repair gene and prevents the accumulation of beta amyloid plaque in the brain. [Journal Biological Chemistry, June 2, 2006, online]

Researchers around the world report that resveratrol, known as a red wine molecule, may be "a boon for treating Alzheimer’s disease" by virtue of its ability to mimic calorie restriction and activate the Sirtuin 1 DNA repair gene. [Brain Research Brain Research Reviews, June 9, 2006 online] If only Moses had some grapes to ferment into wine then.

There is corroborative evidence that resveratrol is a therapeutic and preventive agent for Alzheimer’s disease. Studies of human populations reveal that moderate red wine drinking (1—3 glasses per day) invariably lowers risk for Alzheimer’s disease. [Neurology 3: 579, 2004] Over-consumption of red wine is obviously deleterious.

Remarkably, resveratrol does not inhibit the production of the beta amyloid plaque believed to be responsible for the disease, but rather promotes the degradation of plaque in the brain. [Journal Biological Chemistry 280: 37377, 2005] However, the researchers involved in this discovery had the gall to advise the public to wait for years until they developed a patentable resveratrol-like drug rather than launch out on their own use of this natural molecule.

Other dietary supplements

There is also ample evidence that folic acid (a B vitamin), vitamin E, fish oil, the amino acid carnitine, and the Chinese herbal called huperzine are far more effective in preserving brain function than most medications prescribed today. [Am J Clinical Nutrition 82: 636, 2005; Pharmacopsychiatry 36: 297, 2003; J Nutrition 135: 549, 2005] Huperzine was shown to be 2—8 times more potent than commonly prescribed drugs for Alzheimer’s, with longer-lasting benefit and minimal side effects. [Neuroscience Letters 361: 56, 2004] A combination of these dietary supplements may be synergistic and provide optimal protection for brain cells. [Brain Research 1061: 114, 2005]

However, don’t expect doctors to begin prescribing dietary supplements for Alzheimer’s disease anytime soon. The problem is, modern medicine is advancing a number of prescription drugs, rather than food supplements, to treat Alzheimer’s.

Drugs continue to disappoint

The primary class of drugs used to treat this brain disease, called acetycholinesterase inhibitors, are not appropriate for 30—40% of individuals with Alzheimer’s and up to 29% of patients given these drugs stop taking them because of side effects. Seven patients must take the leading drug, Aricept/Cognex (donepezil), for 1 patient to experience stabilization (non-progression) of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, and 42 patients for 1 patient to experience marked improvement. [Canadian Medical Association Journal 169: 557, 2003] Drugs in clinical trials are a long away from gaining approval and the drug considered to be most promising, a monoclonal antibody, has recently been withdrawn due to side effects.

Alzheimer’s will bankrupt Medicare

Meanwhile, a heralding report in Nature Medicine [July 2006], entitled "Alzheimer’s disease: progress or profit?" says developed societies haven’t much time left to come up with a cure before the number of "Alzheimer disease patients is expected to soar to levels that may exceed the ability of the government to absorb the added cost."

Medicare payments for Alzheimer’s disease were about $91 billion in 2005 and are expected to rise to $160 billion by the year 2010. This does not count the rising costs of residential care for Alzheimer’s paid by Medicaid. This rise in costs represents a 13% rise in the total Medicare budget for treatment of one disease alone.

Estimates are the U.S. government spends $647 million for Alzheimer’s disease research. So far, the medicine cupboard is near empty, even with the concerted effort to develop a therapeutic drug.

It is estimated more than 70% of Alzheimer’s disease patients will live at home, placing physical and emotional stress on caregivers. Most affected families will experience costs that will force the sale of property and bankruptcy, as care is likely to cost $3000 per month or more.

Will the public take action on their own?

The only question is whether the public, primarily the caregivers of early-stage Alzheimer’s patients, will get the message and have the gumption to strike out on their own and begin using dietary supplements, without a doctor’s prescription. This is not likely to happen given the current public mind-set to over-rely upon doctoring and to have insurance plans pay for all medications. The public, not doctors, will determine whether Alzheimer’s will further engulf long-lived populations into poverty.

Bill Sardi [send him mail] is a consumer advocate and health journalist, writing from San Dimas, California. He offers a free downloadable book, The Collapse of Conventional Medicine, at his website.

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