Life Extension Magazine October 2009
Are You Safe from Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline?
By Robert Haas, MS
Did you know that someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s disease about every 70 seconds?
Or that an estimated 23% of people over 65 years of age already suffer from mild cognitive impairment?
Worse, even if you’re in the “prime of your life,” you may not be spared: approximately 500,000 Americans under age 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s disease—or some form of dementia.2
These facts underscore the terrifying prospect that Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive decline may loom for anyone over forty. While modern medicine remains focused on disease treatment, its understanding of how to maintain robust cognitive function remains largely elusive.
The sad reality is we still do not know how to halt the progression of this brain wasting disease once its clinical emergence has been detected. Meanwhile, the incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other common forms of dementia. . .are rising steadily.
A recent breakthrough clinical trial conducted by Israeli scientists,3 suggests that specific neuroprotective and neurotrophic compounds can play a vital role in maintaining healthy brain function as we age.
In this article, you’ll learn how these natural ingredients work—individually and together—to prevent and to restore the loss of essential cognitive abilities.
Real Hope for Preserving Cognitive Function
What could possibly lie behind the unprecedented increase in cognitive decline in the United States and other industrialized nations? One key may be that increased levels of inflammation and cellular oxidative damage found in most aging people are accompanied by cognitive dysfunction and motor performance—even in the absence of neurodegenerative diseases.4
Neurologists who treat Alzheimer’s disease and other common forms of dementia agree that to insure good mental health as we age, we must take proactive measures to protect our brain health decades before the onset of the symptoms of cognitive decline begin.
The need is so grave that one leading health expert has warned: “It is extremely unlikely that we will be able to substantially reduce the morbidity and disability associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease without having a preventive, especially primary prevention, strategy.”5
Anti-aging scientists have long recognized the need for a multi-component ‘cocktail’ to deal with the diverse etiology of cognitive decline. To address this need, Life Extension® researchers tested cutting-edge ingredients in accordance with the latest information on the underlying causes of brain aging. Their investigations were based on a unique and synergistic multi-ingredient model.
Drug companies are discouraged by FDA regulations from developing multi-component products that contain both drugs and dietary supplements. According to the FDA, a pharmaceutical product can either be a drug or a dietary supplement, but it can’t be both. The agency considers existing drugs combined with dietary supplements as new drugs that require further FDA approval—a prohibitively expensive and time-consuming process that would substantially diminish the profits of an existing FDA-approved drug. As a result, single-agent drugs remain the de facto standard of care in the US for treating cognitive decline.
Fortunately, nutraceuticals and other dietary supplements remain exempt from the very FDA regulations that discourage drug manufacturers from developing innovative multi-component products. This provided Life Extension® scientists the freedom to research cognitive-enhancing nutrients by combining a number of natural brain-boosting ingredients that would act synergistically to promote healthy brain function and to attack cognitive decline on multiple levels.
As borne out by the results of a recent Israeli clinical trial, the efforts of Life Extension® scientists were well spent: study investigators who measured mental improvement in men and women between the ages of 70-80 given a daily dose of these ingredients were“shown to improve cognitive abilities related to attention, learning, memory and complex activities of daily living following only two weeks of supplementation. These observations were maintained or even amplified by the end of the study.” The study’s investigators concluded that these ingredients actually showed “beneficial effects emphasized by the high magnitude of the improvement experienced by most of the participants.”4
Neuroprotective Compounds That Promote Healthy Cognitive Function
The Israeli clinical trial demonstrated a high degree of efficacy and safety of these ingredients by showing a significant improvement in neurological functions known to deteriorate as we age. Let’s examine these individual natural ingredients to understand how they protect against cognitive decline and restore healthy brain function—properties that may help prevent or forestall the neurodegenerative processes that often lead directly to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Alpha-Glycerylphosphorylcholine (A-GPC) supports synthesis of an essential neurotransmitter while boosting memory function. A-GPC can forestall, stabilize, and even partially reverse cognitive impairment in the early stages of senile dementia.6
A-GPC is present in all cells of the body and in human breast milk.7 Studies suggest that taking A-GPC can increase brain levels of acetylcholine,8 which is known to improve cognitive function. A-GPC plays an essential role in nerve cell growth and repair and in improving the learning and memory capacity of lab animals.9
The clinical efficacy of A-GPC was tested in an open multicenter trial in 2,044 patients suffering from recent stroke or transient ischemic attack (a mild form of stroke). A-GPC was administered after the neurological event at a daily dose of 1,000 mg intramuscularly for 28 days and orally at a dose of 400 mg three times a day during the 5 months following the first phase.10 This trial confirmed the therapeutic role of A-GPC in supporting the cognitive recovery of patients who have suffered an acute stroke or transient ischemic attack.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a ubiquitous phospholipid found within the inner cell membrane that regulates a variety of neuroendocrine responses, including the release of acetylcholine, dopamine, and noradrenaline.11 PS has displayed the ability to influence tissue responses to inflammation to act as an effective antioxidant, especially in response to iron-induced oxidation.11 Studies have shown that by stimulating production of acetylcholine, PS can improve the condition of patients experiencing age-associated memory impairment or cognitive decline.12-14 Research has also proven that PS supplementation may provide additional benefits for mood,15 memory,15 and cognition.14 PS may be even more effective when combined with the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).16 For example, a PS-DHA combination has been shown to improve age-associated memory impairment and cognitive decline.17
Vinpocetine, derived from the periwinkle flower Vinca minor, has been prescribed in Europe for decades to treat the symptoms of age-related memory impairment. Studies have shown that vinpocetine enhances metabolism and blood flow in the brain and may provide improvement for patients with vascular dementia and ischemic stroke.18-21
Vinpocetine stimulates the brain’s use of glucose and oxygen by improving poor cerebral blood flow.22 It also increases electrical conductivity between nerve cells and supports the activity of nerve pathways related to mental alertness.23 When combined with the popular herb ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine speeds the processing of short-term working memory in normal adults.24
One study that investigated blood flow in patients with ischemic stroke and mild cognitive impairment found that vinpocetine improved the cerebrovascular blood reserve capacity in patients and favorably influenced the cognitive status and the general condition of patients. The authors of this study recommended the use of vinpocetine for the treatment of patients with mild cognitive impairment.25
Another study showed that vinpocetine enhanced vasodilation (relaxation of blood vessels) and improved vascular disease-related cognitive dysfunction secondary to reduced blood flow in the cerebral cortex.26 In a review of several preliminary controlled studies of older adults with memory impairment related to poor brain circulation or dementia, the study’s authors found suggestive evidence that vinpocetine produced more improvement in tests of attention, concentration, and memory than placebo.27 In a controlled clinical trial of 203 patients with mild-to-moderate dementia, 30 or 60 mg of vinpocetine taken daily for four months was well tolerated and associated with improvement in cognitive performance and decreased severity of illness, relative to placebo.28
Vinpocetine may protect against some of the damage related to ischemic stroke. Two studies reveal that vinpocetine was able to prevent release of potentially toxic glutamate and free radicals in the brain.18,29 Vinpocetine should not be used with Coumadin® (warfarin) or other blood thinners except by a physician’s recommendation.