The drive to self-improvement is one of the defining aspects of our culture. We are willing to go to great lengths to match our ideals; and if you're not an Adonis or Venus, a mental equal to Einstein, or the spiritual equivalent of a saint, you may have felt a twinge of shame and pressure to whip yourself into shape.
So it's no surprise that as soon as medical science develops a treatment for a disease, we often ask if it couldn't perhaps make a healthy person even healthier. Take Viagra, for example: developed to help men who couldn't get erections, it's now used by many who function perfectly well without a pill but who hope it will make them exceptionally virile.
First and foremost, we're trying to bring as much attention as possible to
kidney disease; educate the general public about risk factors such as high
blood pressure, diabetes, and family history; share the warning signs and the
importance of regularly seeing your doctor; and highlight organ donation. So
many people have kidney disease and just don't know it, which is why it's so
important to create a relationship with your doctor. The National Kidney
Foundation provides free kidney screenings...
The same thing is happening with psychopharmaceuticals -- drugs that work on the mind. Ritalin, the first drug to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has been widely used by normal students hoping to be extra sharp while taking SATs or cramming for college exams.
Several new medications are on the market and in development for Alzheimer's disease, a progressive neurological disease leading to memory loss, language deterioration, and confusion that afflicts about 4.5 million Americans and is expected to strike millions more as the baby boom generation ages. Yet the burning question for those who aren't staring directly into the face of Alzheimer's is whether these medications might make us smarter.
In theory, it's possible, says Marvin Hausman, MD, CEO of Axonyx Inc., a company whose Alzheimer's drug Phenserine is undergoing clinical trials in Europe. Phenserine is not available in the U.S.
Phenserine, as well as the drugs Aricept and Exelon, which are already on the market, work by increasing the level of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is deficient in people with the disease. A neurotransmitter is a chemical that allows communication between nerve cells in the brain. In people with Alzheimer's disease, many brain cells have died, so the hope is to get the most out of those that remain by flooding the brain with acetylcholine.