There are some in the medical community that paint a stark picture of Alzheimer’s and the effect it will have on our lives as we age: everyone will either get the mind-wasting disease or will know someone who has it. Memory problems are almost a given.
How serious those memory problems become can’t be predicted precisely in any one of us. There is a silver lining in all of this doom-saying, however. An ounce of prevention could go a long way in slowing memory decline.
Part of facing memory loss and the threat of Alzheimer’s is understanding just how early on mental decline begins. Memory loss actually starts in your teens and becomes a common complaint for those in their forties. Any video game whiz can tell you that hand-eye coordination starts to slowly decline after the age of 25. The problem is that communication between your brain and body doesn’t happen lightning fast anymore.
The connection is slower and, as a result, your reaction time becomes slower too. Lags in memory are created by changes in the speed of neurons being fired from one place in the brain to another. When you’re young, it’s almost simultaneous, but as you get older, it becomes more difficult, causing you to search for names and memory-based information for much longer periods. Eventually, you can’t retrieve stored information at all and you have to get help to remember.
So what can you do to protect against the threat of complete memory loss? Is there really a way to prevent Alzheimer’s and delay dementia? For years, researchers have been studying memory problems, spending billions of dollars on this phenomenon. But rather than resort to expensive medical treatments and prescriptions, like you were previously told, one recent study suggests that three vitamins—B6, B12, and folic acid—could play an important role in protecting your brain against the sort of damage that leads to Alzheimer’s.
For the trial, researchers recruited 156 people over the age of 70. These participants were experiencing mild memory loss. They also showed high levels of homocysteine—a protein that’s been linked to the onset of dementia. The research team found that gray matter, found in the brain and spinal cord and chiefly composed of neurons, was better protected in those taking B6, B12, and folic acid. In patients taking a placebo and who showed high levels of homocysteine, gray matter was reduced by 5.2%. In comparison, those taking the vitamin supplement had their grey matter decline by a much more modest 0.6%.
The researchers noted that the supplements cost about $0.30 a day. Could this be the easiest—and cheapest—way to prevent Alzheimer’s and delay dementia? This is good news for all of us who could thus far only look forward to expensive drug treatments that have not been proven in any way to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The researchers also noted that older peoples’ brains shrink faster when they are low in vitamin B12, which explains why vitamin B12 is helpful, especially when you’re older and want to prevent memory problems. The researchers think they have found a safe, effective, and economical way to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s, it’s very much a numbers game. Because this disease tends to strike us when we are old, any treatment that delays progression is as valuable as a treatment that might one day prevent Alzheimer’s. The research team estimates that a delay of five years in the onset of Alzheimer’s could cut in half the number of people that will die from the condition.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Gerlin, A., “Vitamins That Cost Pennies a Day Seen Delaying Dementia,” Bloomberg web site, May 20, 2013; www.bloomberg.com, last accessed June 4, 2013.
Allen, V.J., et al., “Use of nutritional complete supplements in older adults with dementia: Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical outcomes,” Clin Nutr. March 28, 2013.
Shar, R., “The Role of Nutrition and Diet in Alzheimer Disease: A Systematic Review,” J Am Med Dir Assoc. February 16, 2013.