Coenzyme Q10, or ubiquinone, is
an antioxidant that occurs naturally
in the body and is needed for normal cell reactions to occur. This
compound has not been studied for its effectiveness in treating
A synthetic version of this
compound, called idebenone, was tested
for Alzheimer’s disease but did not show favorable results.
known about what dosage of coenzyme Q10 is considered safe, and there
could be harmful effects if too much is taken.
Ginkgo biloba is a plant
extract containing several compounds that may have positive effects on
cells within the brain and the body. Ginkgo biloba
is thought to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,
to protect cell membranes, and to regulate neurotransmitter function. Ginkgo
has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and
currently is being used in Europe to alleviate cognitive symptoms
associated with a number of neurological conditions.
In a study published in the Journal
of the American Medical Association (October
22/29, 1997), Pierre L. Le Bars, MD, PhD, of the New York Institute for
Medical Research, and his colleagues observed in some participants a
modest improvement in cognition, activities of daily living (such as
eating and dressing), and social behavior. The researchers found no
measurable difference in overall impairment.
Results from this study show
that ginkgo may help some individuals
with Alzheimer’s disease, but further research is needed to
the exact mechanisms by which Ginkgo works in the body. Also,
results from this study are considered preliminary because of the low
number of participants, about 200 people.
Few side effects are associated
with the use of Ginkgo, but
it is known to reduce the ability of blood to clot, potentially leading
to more serious conditions, such as internal bleeding. This risk may
increase if Ginkgo biloba is taken in combination with other
blood-thinning drugs, such as aspirin and warfarin.
Currently, multicenter trial
with about 3,000 participants is investigating whether Ginkgo
may help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or
(pronounced HOOP-ur-zeen) is a
moss extract that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for
centuries. Because it has properties similar to those of FDA-approved
Alzheimer medications, it is promoted as a treatment for
Evidence from small studies
shows that the effectiveness of
huperzine A may be comparable to that of the approved drugs.
Large-scale trials are needed to better understand the effectiveness of
In Spring 2004, the National
Institute on Aging (NIA) launched the
first U.S. clinical trial of huperzine A as a treatment for mild to
moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
Because huperzine A is a
dietary supplement, it is unregulated and
manufactured with no uniform standards. If used in combination with
FDA-approved Alzheimer drugs, an individual could increase the risks of
serious side effects.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are a type
of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). Research has linked certain types
of omega-3s to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) permits supplements
and foods to display labels with “a qualified health claim”
omega-3s called docosahexaneoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid
(EPA). The labels may state, “Supportive but not conclusive
shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce
the risk of coronary heart disease,” and then list the amount of
EPA in the product. The FDA recommends taking no more than a combined
total of 3 grams of DHA or EPA a day, with no more than 2 grams from
Research has also linked high
intake of omega-3s to a possible
reduction in risk of dementia or cognitive decline. The chief omega-3
in the brain is DHA, which is found in the fatty membranes that
surround nerve cells, especially at the microscopic junctions where
cells connect to one another.
A Jan. 25, 2006, literature
review by the Cochrane Collaboration
found that published research does not currently include any clinical
trials large enough to recommend omega-3 supplements to prevent
cognitive decline or dementia. But the reviewers found enough
laboratory and epidemiological studies to conclude this should be a
priority area for further research.
According to the review,
results of at least two larger clinical
trials are expected in 2008. The Cochrane Collaboration is an
independent, nonprofit organization that makes objective assessments of
available evidence on a variety of issues in treatment and health care.
Theories about why omega-3s
might influence dementia risk include
their benefit for the heart and blood vessels; anti-inflammatory
effects; and support and protection of nerve cell membranes. There is
also preliminary evidence that omega-3s may also be of some benefit in
depression and bipolar disorder (manic depression).
A report in the April 2006 Nature
described the first direct
evidence for how omega-3s might have a helpful effect on nerve cells
(neurons). Working with laboratory cell cultures, the researchers found
that omega-3s stimulate growth of the branches that connect one cell to
another. Rich branching creates a dense “neuron forest,”
the basis of the brain’s capacity to process, store and retrieve
See also the 2004 FDA press release
announcing extension of the qualified health claim for omega-3s and
coronary heart disease from supplements to foods.
is a kind of lipid, or fat, that is the primary component of cell
membranes of neurons. In Alzheimer’s disease and similar
neurons degenerate for reasons that are not yet understood. The
strategy behind the possible treatment with phosphatidylserine is to
shore up the cell membrane and possibly protect cells from degenerating.
The first clinical trials with
phosphatidylserine were conducted
with a form derived from the brain cells of cows. Some of these trials
had promising results. However, most trials were with small samples of
This line of investigation
came to an end in the 1990s over concerns
about mad cow disease. There have been some animals studies since then
to see whether phosphatidylserine derived from soy may be a potential
treatment. A report was published in 2000 about a clinical trial with
18 participants with age-associated memory impairment who were treated
with phosphatidylserine. The authors concluded that the results were
encouraging but that there would need to be large carefully controlled
trials to determine if this could be a viable treatment.
supplements have been heavily marketed as a cure for
Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses. Coral
is a form of calcium carbonate claimed to be derived from the shells of
formerly living organisms that once made up coral reefs.
In June 2003, the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) and the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) filed a formal complaint against the
promoters and distributors of coral calcium. The agencies state that
they are aware of no competent and reliable scientific evidence
supporting the exaggerated health claims and that such unsupported
claims are unlawful.
Coral calcium differs from
ordinary calcium supplements only in that
it contains traces of some additional minerals incorporated into the
shells by the metabolic processes of the animals that formed them. It
offers no extraordinary health benefits. Most experts recommend that
individuals who need to take a calcium supplement for bone health take
a purified preparation marketed by a reputable manufacturer.