Researchers discover breakthrough in delaying Alzheimer’s progression

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Waterford scientists from WIT and UHW reveal Alzheimer’s breakthrough as study points to a natural nutritional formula that can delay disease

Ground-breaking new research by a Waterford team has identified a unique combination of nutrients to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

The 18-month study, published in the June edition of the respected Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (JAD), examined the effect of nutritional compounds – found in common foods such as trout, broccoli and peppers – on people with the condition and reached a ‘statistically significant’ finding.

Pioneered by respected Cambridge University academic Dr Alan Howard, who invented the innovative Cambridge Diet, the trial studied people diagnosed with AD from a mild to advanced stage.

Conducted by experts at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland based in the School of Health Science in Waterford Institute of Technology in collaboration with University Hospital Waterford (UHW), it initially set out to examine the biochemical response of AD patients to two different combinations of nutritional supplements. The first formula contained the macular carotenoids Lutein, Meso-Zeaxanthin and Zeaxanthin, and the second combined the macular carotenoids plus a specifically designed fish oil.

However, the researchers unexpectedly made a crucial discovery. They identified that patients receiving the formula containing fish oil maintained cognitive abilities and quality of life – far beyond those taking macular carotenoids alone.

Based on carer reports, trial participants were overwhelmingly identified to have positive outcomes, including functional benefits in memory, sight and mood.

Dr Howard, who is founder and Chair of the Howard Foundation, said: “This represents one of the most important medical advancements of the century.  Alzheimer’s disease is the largest public health crisis we face and drug companies have so far fallen at every hurdle in finding a solution. This study gives us that breakthrough, in a unique natural compound of nutrients.”

Professor John Nolan, founder of the NRCI, who led the study, explains: “Our previous work confirmed that carotenoids are found in the eye and that enrichment of these essential nutrients with nutritional supplements can improve visual function. However, their high concentration in the healthy human brain also suggests a role for these nutrients in cognition.

“We know from several large population-based studies that nutrition is a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but attempts to identify an exact combination of nutrients that can positively impact on brain health have failed – until now.

“This work identifies a unique way to enhance the localised nutrients of the brain. Given our growing and ageing population and, importantly, that we live in a time where the nutritional value of foods continues to decline, I believe this is a valuable discovery that will challenge perceptions worldwide about the role of nutrition on brain function.”

Professor Riona Mulcahy from University Hospital Waterford was the medical consultant to the research. She added: “Up-to-date best medical advice suggests that you can lower your risk of AD through moderate alcohol intake, not smoking, being physically and mentally active, and eating a well-balanced diet. This study shows that diet deficiency is key. Science is now helping us understand exactly what nutrients our brains need. It’s a very exciting development.”

Dr Howard added: “The crucial next question is how people with AD, or at risk of the condition, can obtain enough of these nutrients from a healthy, balanced diet, to protect the brain. The answer is they can’t, due to the quantity necessary to effect such change and the decline in nutrient value of food before it even reaches our dinner plate.  A supplement, which we know is safe, inexpensive and effective, could be life-changing for the millions affected by this disease.

“I believe this research paves the way for potential prevention of AD. Due to the small scale of this initial trial, we’ve now funded a larger project to confirm these findings. But it would be negligent for us to ignore these results until the next study reports back, which will take several years.”

Dr George Perry, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease added: “Nolan’s study of Alzheimer’s disease is the first controlled study of bioavailability and clinical benefit of combined antioxidant therapy and fish oil.  This study highlights the power of this Centre’s earlier studies of the eye to guide studies of the brain.”

Called ‘re-Mind’, the extended research tracking the impact of this new nutritional formula on 120 patients with mild to moderate AD, is currently underway.


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