Do Dietary Supplements Really Make A Difference In Alzheimer’s Or Dementia?

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can often leave a patient and their loved ones feeling desperate and searching for any treatment or cure they can find. Unfortunately, like all chronic and terminal illnesses, there is a wealth of misinformation, and in some cases, individuals looking to profit off of families’ hopes for a cure. Non-Alzheimer’s dementia can interfere with a person’s daily life so much so that they, too, are looking for some kind of fix their doctor has been unable to provide. Dietary supplements can seemingly offer promise to individuals and families facing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, however, it is important to consider all of the facts before give one of these treatments a try. In some cases, you might end up only losing your money, but in other cases, the supplements can be downright dangerous.

Gingko Biloba Gingko has been marketed extremely successfully as a memory aid and treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and is the most popular of the purported memory enhancing dietary supplements. The evidence of its effectiveness is conflicting, at best. Small-scale studies have shown minor memory improvement for patients taking the supplement, but other studies have shown that Gingko has no effect whatsoever on improving memory or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s.

A recent study of 200 men and women with dementia and Alzheimer’s showed Gingko to be of no use to memory impaired patients. In the study, the participants were divided into two groups, testing for to determine their cognitive abilities, and then one group was given Gingko and the other group took a sugar pill. After 12 weeks, the testing was repeated, and then the Gingko group was divided in half again, with half of those patients now receiving a sugar pill as well. At the end of the study, it was determined that Gingko did not offer an improvement to memory, and that the amount of time a patient took the Gingko was irrelevant as well.

In addition to the lack of proof that it is effective at all, Gingko Biloba can be harmful to some patients, especially those taking blooding thinning medications, including aspirin, or antidepressants (which Alzheimer’s patients typically take). There is also no data on what is a safe dosage of Gingko.

Vitamin D – Vitamin D can have an indirect health benefit to Alzheimer’s patients. Vitamin D can help strengthen bones, and since Alzheimer’s patients are at a greater risk of fracture, Vitamin D supplements can provide some increased protection against broken bones. The recommended effective dosage is 400 international units (IU) a day. Vitamin D is found in some oily fish, such as salmon and canned tuna, eggs, and fortified milk, and sunlight causes Vitamin D to occur naturally in the body. Because Alzheimer’s patients tend to have poor nutrition and their exposure to sunlight decreases, Vitamin D supplements are helpful.

Vitamin E – Much like Gingko Biloba, the antioxidant Vitamin E has shown mixed effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s and dementia. Some studies have suggested it can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, but they have been small scale, and other studies do not indicate any effect at all on memory loss. High dosages of Vitamin E - the recommended effective dosage is 2000 IU daily – can be risky for heart health, so doctors at this point do not believe the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Estrogen – Early studies into the effects of estrogen on post-menopausal women suggested that replacement therapy might decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s diseases. Again, however, subsequent studies have contradicted these finding. Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) can lead to uterine bleeding and a higher risk of breast cancer, so it is not currently used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Coral Calcium – Coral calcium is derived from the shells of creature living on coral reefs. Though some believe that coral calcium is a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, no scientific studies exist to show it has any benefit at all.

The FDA has prosecuted many people claiming to have a magic bullet to cure Alzheimer’s disease, who in the end simply bilked families of their money. Before adding any supplements to Alzheimer’s or dementia treatment plans, consult with a doctor to make sure it is safe and will not interfere with any other medications, and try to ask questions so you have a realistic expectation of what the supplement can achieve.