Preliminary results called encouraging
An experimental, multimodal approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease has produced intriguing results in a small study conducted jointly by the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato and the University of California at Los Angeles.
Nine of the 10 participants in the trial displayed subjective or objective improvement in their memories within three to six months after the treatments began. One participant with late-stage Alzheimer’s showed no improvement. The results of the trial are reported in the current online edition of the journal Aging.
“Six of the 10 people were struggling at work because of memory problems, and all six of them have been able to return or continue at their work. That’s hard to fake,” said the paper’s author, Dale Bredesen, a part-time professor at the Buck Institute and director of the Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA.
The improvement appears to be long-lasting. The longest patient follow-up is 2.5 years from initial treatment.
Bredesen said the results are encouraging. He cautioned, however, that they are anecdotal at this stage and that a more extensive, controlled clinical trial is warranted.
“This is just the beginning; it’s a toe in the water,” Bredesen said. “But you have to start somewhere. There hasn’t been any way in the past to have an impact on this disease.”
Bredesen notes in his paper that 13 million Americans — enough to bankrupt the Medicare system — and 160 million people worldwide are projected to develop Alzheimer’s by 2050.
Dr. David Jones, a family doctor in Ashland, Oregon, and president of the Institute for Functional Medicine in Federal Way, Washington, was less reserved in his enthusiasm.
Jones, who has referred some of his Alzheimer’s patients to the Buck Institute, said, “I think we will look back on this as being the first report that really starts research down the correct road to finding answers to dementing diseases.”
Bredesen notes in his paper that despite billions of dollars spent on research in the past decade alone, there is not a single drug for Alzheimer’s “that exerts anything beyond a marginal, unsustained symptomatic effect, with little or no effect on disease progression.”
Bredesen said he was cognizant of the fact that other chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and HIV have been improved through the use of combination therapies.
“That suggested that a broader-based therapeutics approach, rather than a single drug that aims at a single target, may be feasible and potentially more effective for treatment of cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s,” he said.
Bredesen came up with a 36-point therapeutic program, which he tailored somewhat differently for each of the 10 trial participants. The program included changes in diet, exercise, brain stimulation, increased sleep, and specific vitamins and pharmaceuticals.
Bredesen said, “If we are correct and there are many different contributors — we’ve identified 36 different components that contribute to this decline — then maybe we can understand why testing a drug that addresses just one component fails.”
For a 69-year-old Marin entrepreneur with Alzheimer’s, the program involved plenty of strenuous exercise, eight hours of sleep every night, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and little meat, fasting between dinner and breakfast, and the downing of a number of vitamins, herbs and pharmaceuticals.
“I take 32 pills every day, and that’s fine,” said the man, who asked not to be identified due to the stigma attached to Alzheimer’s. “I would say I’m completely symptom-free of anything approximating an Alzheimer’s symptom.”
Before beginning the treatment, the patient was having increasing difficulty recognizing faces at work and had lost a life-long ability to add columns of numbers rapidly in his head. He also recalled an instance when he read several chapters of a book before realizing it was a book he had previously read.
Bredesen said, “Unlike with mono pharmaceutical approaches where you take one drug and it may or may not work — and in Alzheimer’s it doesn’t work — the main side-effect of this approach is better health and optimal body mass index.”
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