As America's population ages, the number of people affected by chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and dementia rises. However, while many helpful drugs and therapies have been developed to deal with most diseases of aging, effective treatments to slow the steady progress of dementia and Alzheimer's lag behind.
While millions of Americans wait for proven treatments to keep their memories from fading away, help may be as close as your spice rack or the shelves of your local health food store. Studies have found the following supplements to be helpful:
• Curcumin. Several studies have found that curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, may treat dementia and Alzheimer's. A study at the University of California Los Angeles found curcumin slows the buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain, and University of Illinois researchers found that curcumin protected cells from damage caused by beta-amyloid.
A collaboration between researchers at Vanderbilt University and Japan's Shiga University of Medical Science discovered a way to deliver a molecule similar to curcumin to the brain more effectively by using an aerosol spray. "Curcumin has demonstrated ability to enter the brain, bind and destroy the beta-amyloid plaques present in Alzheimer’s with reduced toxicity,” said researcher Wellington Pham, Ph.D.
• Astaxanthin. "One of the major ways our body ages is through oxidative stress, and astaxanthin is one of the most potent natural antioxidants available to help prevent this degenerative damage," Joseph Mercola, M.D., author of the New York Times best-seller "The No-Grain Diet," told Newsmax Health.
Astaxanthin is a relative of the carotenoid family and gives salmon its pink hue. Studies have found its antioxidant ability is 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C, 800 times stronger than CoQ10, 550 times stronger than the catechins in green tea, and 100 times the potency of vitamin E.
A Japanese study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that astaxanthin reduced the buildup of phospholipid hydroperoxides (PLOOH), which are harmful free radicals found in abnormally high levels in the red blood cells of people with dementia and Alzheimer's.
PLOOH levels declined 40 percent in volunteers given 6 mg of astaxanthin, and 50 percent in those taking 12 mg daily for 12 weeks. "That's a significant reduction," said Mercola.
• EPPS. A chemical called EPPS can break down and destroy the memory-robbing amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients — at least in animals. EPPS is similar to the amino acid taurine, which is believed to have antioxidant properties and to improve mental and physical performance. It's often added to energy drinks, such as Red Bull.
When Korean researchers added EPPS to the drinking water of mice that had been genetically engineered to have symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, the animals' cognitive function returned to normal and amyloid plaques were cleared from their brains.
Although EPPS hasn't yet been tried on humans, researchers believe it has the ability to stop neurodegeneration.
• Ginkgo biloba. The Ginkgo biloba tree is referred to as a "living fossil" because it goes back more than 200 million years. It has been used in Chinese medicine for around 5,000 years, and has been prescribed for memory loss in Germany for decades. Ginkgo supplements, which use the tree's leaves, boost mental functioning by increasing blood circulation to the brain.
Several animal studies show that Ginkgo, which is an antioxidant, can slow the growth of amyloid plaque deposits, and one study showed that Gingko stimulated the growth of neurons in mice genetically altered to develop Alzheimer's-like symptoms. Human studies have also found that Ginkgo extract improved cognitive function in victims of dementia and Alzheimer's.
A study from the University of Miami found that Ginkgo biloba improved the brain's speed in making connections in healthy older adults by 68 percent, and UCLA researchers found it improved verbal recall in patients who complained of mild age-related memory loss.
Aloe vera. Researchers at the University of Miami's School of Medicine found that a supplement containing a compound from aloe vera called polymannose improved cognitive function in 46 percent of patients with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's — patients so severely affected by the disease that they usually aren't even considered to be included in clinical trials for testing new treatments.
Many of the improvements seen during the 12-month study were dramatic. "I've had caregivers in tears because this product brought people back," lead researcher John E. Lewis, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine, told Newsmax Health.
Lewis' study found stem cell production was increased 377 percent, and believes that neurons are being created. Markers of inflammation, which are associated with Alzheimer's, decreased.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital found that the brains of older adults who took fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, suffered significantly less cognitive decline and brain shrinkage when compared to those who didn't take the supplement.
A study published in the FASEB Journal found that fish oil reduced brain inflammation and the buildup of memory-destroying amyloid plaque. Other studies have also indicated that omega-3 fatty acids help people who have mild Alzheimer's disease. A 2015 British study found that a combination of omega-3's and B vitamins slowed brain damage by 70 percent in patients with early-stage dementia.
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