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 Alzheimer’s prevention.
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 know that.”
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.
Current smoking, never having been married, diets high in saturated fats, and diseases like diabetes and hypertension have been reported to have an association with Alzheimer’s diseases. “However, the evidence for association of all of these factors with Alzheimer’s disease was considered to be of low quality,” the report states.