Vitamins and Herbs

Slowing Alzheimer's Progress: Page 4

By , Caring.com senior editor
Last updated: February 19, 2014
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Scientists are investigating several different dietary additions for people with dementia. Two of the most promising areas:

  • Antioxidants

A clinical trial showed that vitamin E helps slow down mental impairment in people with Alzheimer's. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which helps protect cells against damage. It's now being researched in conjunction with B vitamins.

A large 2005 study found that healthy people who consumed more than 400 micrograms (the recommended daily amount for adults) of folate, a B vitamin that occurs naturally in many foods, cut their risk of developing Alzheimer's in half. This slowing of cognitive decline is being looked at to see if it's also true once decline has started.

  • Ginkgo biloba

    This herb, traditionally used in Chinese medicine, comes from the dried leaves of the gingko (maidenhair) tree. It's sometimes called the "memory herb," after findings that it appears to help slow down cognitive decline for some people in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. To date, research studies making this claim have been criticized, however, and a randomized clinical trial sponsored in part by the National Institute on Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found the herb to be ineffective in reducing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people.

What you can do:

Encourage the person in your care to inform her primary-care doctor about any supplements and herbs she's been taking, and their dosages, and do so yourself if she doesn't. Bring the bottle, so the doctor can see exactly what's being taken. Too much vitamin E, for example, can cause gastrointestinal problems and other side effects, and can be fatal to people with heart disease.

In general, the best way to get important vitamins and minerals is to consume them from their natural food sources. One study found that Alzheimer's patients who most closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet (high in vegetables, legumes, cereals, fruit, fish, poultry, dairy, and monounstaturated fats -- and low in saturated fats) lived an average of 1.3 years longer than those who consumed a Western diet (higher in saturated fats and meats, lower in vegetables).

Try to make sure that she's eating a diet low in saturated fats and rich in vitamins E, C, and B. Older people's diets often lack fresh fruits and vegetables (such as citrus, berries, and leafy green vegetables), legumes (beans), whole-wheat or fortified bread, and nuts and seeds.

Take a close look at her eating habits. People with memory problems often slack off on cooking because even the familiar steps, as well as managing cutlery, become too challenging.

The catch with vitamins and herbs:

The one thing scientists agree on concerning memory loss and supplements is that more research is needed. No single "magic bullet" has been found to stop memory decline in its tracks, and no supplements should be taken by people with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia without medical supervision.