In one study, alpha-lipoic acid was given daily to nine patients with Alzheimer's disease. The treatment led to a stabilization of cognitive functions in the study group.
According the study:
"... [T]he progression [of Alzheimer's for patients taking alpha-lipoic acid] appears dramatically lower than data reported for untreated patients or patients on choline-esterase inhibitors in the second year of long-term studies ... [O]ur data suggest that treatment with alpha-lipoic acid might be a successful 'neuroprotective' therapy option."
Separate research also revealed that alpha lipoic acid, in combination with vitamin E and acetyl-l-carnitine, led to improvements in potential biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease and showed promise for slowing the progression of the disease.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a powerful antioxidant and one of the most effective free radical scavengers. Perhaps more importantly, it's the only one known to be easily transported into your brain, where it offers dramatic benefits for people with brain diseases like Alzheimer's disease.
Alpha Lipoic Acid May Slow Alzheimer's Progression
In one study of patients with Alzheimer's disease, those given 600 mg of alpha lipoic daily for 12 months had a stabilization of cognitive function. A follow-up study, which increased the number of patients in the study and extended the observation period to 48 months, the progression of the disease was "dramatically lower" among those taking alpha lipoic acid, compared to those with no treatment or those taking choline-esterase inhibitor drugs.
" … treatment with alpha-lipoic acid might be a successful 'neuroprotective' therapy option for AD [Alzheimer's disease]."
This study was not double-blinded, randomized or placebo-controlled, which is generally the "gold standard" of medical research, however it still shows promise as a treatment for a disease that conventional medicine offers little in the way of treatment.
A separate animal study published last year did find similar benefits; rats with Alzheimer's disease given a combination of alpha lipoic acid, vitamin E and acetyl-l-carnitine showed improvements in several markers of the disease, including total homocysteine, insulin, insulin-like growth factor and tumor necrosis factor.
Further, in a review of research into alpha lipoic acid for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, researchers noted several mechanisms by which it appears to show benefit, including scavenging free radicals, chelating metals, and reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Researchers noted:
- "LA [lipoic acid] increases acetylcholine (ACh) production by activation of choline acetyltransferase and increases glucose uptake, thus supplying more acetyl-CoA for the production of ACh." (Those suffering from Alzheimer's disease typically have a marked shortage of acetylcholine.)
- "LA chelates redox-active transition metals, thus inhibiting the formation of hydroxyl radicals and also scavenges reactive oxygen species (ROS), thereby increasing the levels of reduced glutathione." (Glutathione deficiency has been linked to age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's.)
- "LA down-regulates the expression of redox-sensitive pro-inflammatory proteins … " (People with Alzheimer's tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their brains.)
They also pointed out a potential benefit of combining ALA with other nutraceuticals like curcumin, EGCG from green tea, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from krill oil to provide a synergistic treatment.
Conventional Alzheimer's Treatments Offer Little Benefit
In the United States, someone develops Alzheimer's disease every 69 seconds, and by 2050 this is expected to increase to a new case every 33 seconds, according to the Alzheimer's Association's 2011 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures. The disease is currently at epidemic proportions, with 5.4 million Americans -- including one in eight people aged 65 and over -- living with Alzheimer's disease. By 2050, this is expected to jump to 16 million, and in the next 20 years it is projected that Alzheimer's will affect one in four Americans.
Unfortunately, existing treatments are often of little to no benefit whatsoever.
Memantine, brand name Namenda, is a widely used Alzheimer's drug that is approved for moderate to severe cases. Despite this, doctors often prescribe it off-label for mild Alzheimer's cases and even for mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is frequently the prelude to Alzheimer's.
However, a reanalysis of data from three clinical trials showed that patients with mild Alzheimer's who took Namenda had no improvement in mental function or their ability to perform everyday tasks compared to placebo. Even among moderate to severe Alzheimer's patients, for which the drug is approved to treat, the researchers found only "meager" improvements.
Namenda paired with a cholinesterase inhibitor, a type of drug that may help prevent the breakdown of certain memory-influencing neurotransmitters, is the go-to treatment for Alzheimer's, but the study shows it likely offers little to no benefit to patients.
What Else Can Alpha Lipoic Acid Benefit?
One of the positive aspects of using alpha lipoic acid as a treatment is that it offers other potential benefits as well, whereas Alzheimer's drugs are linked with side effects like confusion, hip fractures and slower heart rate.
For instance, ALA has the ability to regenerate other antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, and glutathione. So, when your body has used up these antioxidants, if there's ALA around, it helps regenerate them. Alpha lipoic acid also recycles coenzyme Q10 and NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) and is:
- A great modifier of gene expression to reduce inflammation
- A very potent heavy metal chelator
- An enhancer of insulin sensitivity
According to Dr. Burt Berkson, Russia has even successfully used ALA intravenously to reverse ischemia reperfusion injuries by injecting it right after a heart attack or a stroke. And people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome tend to do much better when taking lipoic acid, as it enhances insulin sensitivity.
There's even been quite a bit of research showing it can restore T cell function. T cells are a type of white blood cells that are of key importance to your immune system, and are at the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailors your body's immune response to specific pathogens. ALA may even help slow down the aging process itself through its reduction in free radicals.
For more science behind the benefits of ALA, GreenMedInfo has indexed 79 studies showing its influence on 84 conditions (six of these are on Alzheimer's disease and 10 are related to ALA's neuroprotective properties).
Alzheimer's Prevention 101
If you have Alzheimer's disease or know someone who does, ALA may be a useful supplement to consider that could potentially offer benefit. But, because of the very limited treatments, and no available cure as of yet, for Alzheimer's, I strongly suggest you take every step you can to prevent it from happening to you in the first place.
In order to effectively prevent a disease, you must address its underlying causative factors. Although we do not have definitive "proof" of what, specifically, causes Alzheimer's, a number of factors have been linked to an increased risk of dementia, and we know enough about those to in turn make educated recommendations for preventing this type of brain deterioration.
Some of the best strategies for Alzheimer's prevention include:
- Fructose. You simply MUST keep your level below 25 grams per day. This toxic influence is serving as the master regulator of brain toxicity. Since the average person is exceeding this recommendation by 300% this is a pervasive and serious issue. I view this as the MOST important step you can take.
- Keep your fasting insulin levels below 3. This is indirectly related to fructose, as it will clearly lead to insulin resistance. However other sugars, grains and lack of exercise are also factors here.
- Vitamin B12: According to a small Finnish study recently published in the journal Neurology, people who consume foods rich in B12 may reduce their risk of Alzheimer's in their later years. For each unit increase in the marker of vitamin B12 (holotranscobalamin) the risk of developing Alzheimer's was reduced by 2 percent.
Very high doses of B vitamins have also been found to treat Alzheimer's disease and reduce memory loss.
- Vitamin D: In 2007 researchers at the University of Wisconsin uncovered strong links between low levels of vitamin D in Alzheimer's patients and poor outcomes on cognitive tests. Scientists launched the study after family members of Alzheimer's patients who were treated with large doses of prescription vitamin D reported that they were acting and performing better than before.
Researchers believe that optimal vitamin D levels may enhance the amount of important chemicals in your brain and protect brain cells.
Vitamin D receptors have been identified throughout the human body, and that includes in your brain. Metabolic pathways for vitamin D exist in the hippocampus and cerebellum of the brain, areas that are involved in planning, processing of information, and the formation of new memories.
Sufficient vitamin D is also imperative for proper functioning of your immune system to combat inflammation, and other research has discovered that people with Alzheimer's tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their brains.
- Eat a nutritious diet, rich in folate, such as the one described in my nutrition plan. Ideally you'll want to design your diet around your nutritional type. Everyone, however, regardless of nutritional type will want to avoid fructose as much as possible.
Strict vegetarian diets have been shown to increase your Alzheimer's risk, whereas diets high in omega-3's lower your risk. However, vegetables, without question, are your best form of folate, and we should all eat plenty of fresh raw veggies every day.
- High-quality animal based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil. (I recommend avoiding most fish because although fish is naturally high in omega-3, most fish stocks are now severely contaminated with mercury.)
High intake of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA helps by preventing cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, thereby slowing down its progression, and lowering your risk of developing the disorder. Researchers have also said DHA "dramatically reduces the impact of the Alzheimer's gene."
- Avoid and remove mercury from your body. Dental amalgam fillings are one of the major sources of mercury, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my optimized nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed.
- Avoid aluminum, such as antiperspirants, non-stick cookware, etc.
- Exercise regularly. I would strongly recommend reviewing the Peak Fitness Technique for my specific recommendations.
- Avoid flu vaccinations as most contain both mercury and aluminum!
- Eat plenty of blueberries. Wild blueberries, which have high anthocyanin and antioxidant content, are known to guard against Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.
- Challenge your mind daily. Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as learning to play an instrument or a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.
- Avoid anticholinergic drugs. Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain night-time pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers.
A study found that those who took drugs classified as 'definite anticholinergics' had a four times higher incidence of cognitive impairment. Regularly taking two of these drugs further increased the risk of cognitive impairment.