April 28, 2010 -- There is no good evidence that Alzheimer’s disease or the
other forms of dementia affecting millions of Americans are
preventable, a government scientific panel concluded Wednesday.
The group warns that
supplements, drugs, special diets,
and other products marketed for brain-healing or Alzheimer’s-preventing effects
are largely a waste of money. That’s because no treatments, exercises, or any
other method have been shown to prevent mental decline that can ultimately lead
to the disease.
“There is currently no evidence considered to be of even moderate scientific
quality supporting the association of any modifiable factor (nutritional
supplements, herbal preparations, dietary factors, prescription or
nonprescription drugs, social or economic factors, medical conditions, toxins,
environmental exposures) with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” concludes
the report, issued by a National Institutes of Health consensus panel on
Up to 5 million people are thought to be living with Alzheimer’s disease,
the most common form of dementia. The disease is has become more widespread as
the Americans live longer, giving dementia more time to set in.
Experts acknowledged that the prospect of mental decline is terrifying to
many aging people, making them seek out things that might prevent it.
“I’m scared to death of this disorder,” says Carl C. Bell, MD, director of
psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"What we have found again is there are no modifiable issues or variables
that are going to prevent Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline and people should
Bell said the panel was hopeful the conclusions would “dissuade folks from
spending extraordinary amounts of money on stuff that doesn’t work.”
“For some of them we don’t even know the side effects or possible harm,”
says Dinesh Patel, MD, senior geriatrician and an assistant clinical professor
of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
Experts noted that a few studies have shown some limited evidence of slowing
cognitive decline. Some studies have suggested omega-3 fatty acids, found in
fish oils and some algae, may slow mental declines once they start. Experts
also pointed to limited studies suggesting mental
exercise programs like memory training, reasoning, and “quick thinking” may
have a small benefit over a five-year period.