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Nutrient Mix Improves Early Alzheimer's Patients' Memories

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A clinical trial of an Alzheimer's disease treatment developed at MIT has found that the nutrient cocktail can improve memory in patients with early Alzheimer's. The results confirm and expand the findings of an earlier trial of the nutritional supplement, which is designed to promote new connections between brain cells.

Alzheimer's patients gradually lose those connections, known as synapses, leading to memory loss and other cognitive impairments. The supplement mixture, known as Souvenaid, appears to stimulate growth of new synapses, says Richard Wurtman, the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor Emeritus at MIT, who invented the nutrient mixture.

"You want to improve the numbers of synapses, not by slowing their degradation - though of course you'd love to do that too - but rather by increasing the formation of the synapses," Wurtman says.

To do that, Wurtman came up with a mixture of three naturally occurring dietary compounds: choline, uridine and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. Choline can be found in meats, nuts and eggs, and omega-3 fatty acids are found in a variety of sources, including fish, eggs, flaxseed and meat from grass-fed animals. Uridine is produced by the liver and kidney, and is present in some foods as a component of RNA.

These nutrients are precursors to the lipid molecules that, along with specific proteins, make up brain-cell membranes, which form synapses. To be effective, all three precursors must be administered together.

Results of the clinical trial, conducted in Europe, appear in the July 10 online edition of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. The new findings are encouraging because very few clinical trials have produced consistent improvement in Alzheimer's patients, says Jeffrey Cummings, director of the Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

"Memory loss is the central characteristic of Alzheimer's, so something that improves memory would be of great interest," says Cummings, who was not part of the research team.

Plans for commercial release of the supplement are not finalized, according to Nutricia, the company testing and marketing Souvenaid, but it will likely be available in Europe first. Nutricia is the specialized health care division of the food company Danone, known as Dannon in the United States.


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