Can a Drink Help Memory in Early Dementia?

Medically Reviewed by Sheena Meredith, MD on March 14, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

March 14, 2016 -- Early results of a study suggest a nutritional drink may help memory problems in people with early dementia.

But Alzheimer's groups urge caution regarding the findings.

Fatty Acids and Vitamins

The drink, Souvenaid, is a patented combination of fatty acids, vitamins, and other nutrients derived from milk, fish, and soy. It is marketed for the dietary management of early Alzheimer's disease.

Souvenaid is not available in the United States, according to its web site, but studies are under way in the U.S. and Europe.

Early results have emerged from a product trial that took place as part of the 2-year EU funded European LipiDiDiet clinical trial. They show that Souvenaid can help prevent brain shrinkage in people who have the pre-dementia stage of Alzheimer's disease.

Memory Problems

It was found to be particularly effective in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that helps store short-term memories for long-term retrieval. Also, for those who take it early enough and take it regularly, it can help to conserve memory and the ability to think and perform everyday tasks. People in the study underwent memory testing to measure performance.

But the study did not find any significant improvements in thinking skills among those who drank the product. And no evidence has been presented to show that it could delay the progression to full-blown Alzheimer's disease.

The trial involved 311 people who were randomly given either Souvenaid or another drink that acted as a placebo.

The clinical trial was headed by Hilkka Soininen, professor of neurology at the University of Eastern Finland. It explored the helpful impact of nutrition on the brain in aging, Alzheimer's disease, and vascular dementia.

Combining Nutrients

"We have known for a while that diet can reduce the risk of developing dementia,” project coordinator Tobias Hartmann says in a statement. “Indeed, certain nutrients have been found to have a neuroprotective effect on the brain. However, translating this into an effective intervention hasn’t been easy because single nutrients simply aren’t powerful enough to fight a disease like Alzheimer’s alone."

The clinical trial results show "the key is combining certain nutrients, in order to increase their effect,” he says.

The findings were presented at the 14th International Athens/Springfield Symposium on Advances in Alzheimer Therapy in Athens, Greece.

'Interesting' Results

"We know that a healthy, balanced diet can be important for reducing the risk of dementia,” says Rosa Sancho, PhD, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK. “This nutritional drink aims to supplement a person’s intake of certain nutrients that could help keep connections between nerve cells in the brain healthy, but previous trials of this product in people with Alzheimer’s have had mixed results."

She continues: "These preliminary results are interesting, but we will need to see the full published trial data to gain a better understanding of the potential of this intervention.

"It’s important that people try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet as they get older, particularly those who have dementia. Anyone concerned about their own diet, or that of a friend or relative with dementia, should talk to their doctor or nurse. As well as a balanced diet, current evidence suggests that the best way to maintain a healthy brain as we get older is to not smoke, keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check, only drink in moderation, and stay mentally and physically active."

'Not an Overall Success'

James Pickett, PhD, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society in the U.K., says in a statement: "Today’s results show that an over-the-counter nutritional supplement can bring memory improvements for people in the very early stages of the Alzheimer’s disease, providing some relief to one of the most common symptoms. However, the study wasn’t considered an overall success as there were no wider improvements in cognition and there was no evidence that the drink can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease."

Those worried about their memory should visit their doctor, Pickett says. "If early Alzheimer’s disease is suspected, this supplement is one option for people to try, along with taking regular exercise, avoiding smoking and eating a healthy, balanced diet to keep their memory sharp."

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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14th International Athens/Springfield Symposium on Advances in Alzheimer Therapy, Athens, Greece, March 9-12, 2016.


Alzheimer's Research UK.

Alzheimer's Society.

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