The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) – the body that assesses and makes recommendations about NHS care – has recently suggested that doctors should desist from treating patients newly diagnosed with the brain drain condition known as Alzheimer’s disease. After reviewing the evidence, NICE’s panel of experts have come to the conclusion that the drugs currently used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, known as the ‘cholinesterase inhibitors’, are not worth the tens of millions of pounds the NHS spends on them each year. However, the fact that the cholinesterase inhibitors are the only drugs that have the potential to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease has led some psychiatrists to wonder whether the experts at NICE have lost their minds.
The recent pronouncement from NICE got me thinking about what natural approaches may benefit those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. On the nutritional side, there is some evidence that the so-called omega-3 fats found in oily fish may have some role here. These fats come in two principal forms: eicosaentenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Together, these fats are believed to play critical roles in the structure and function of the brain. Omega-3 fats also have a natural ability to quell inflammation – a process that has been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies show that Alzheimer’s disease sufferers tend to be short on omega-3 fats, and consuming more of these fats has been associated with relative protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Two studies, for instance, have found that eating fish just once a week is associated with a 60 per cent reduction in risk. For those looking to get therapeutic benefit from omega-3 fats, I recommend eating two or three portions of oily fish such as mackerel, herring or sardine each week, or supplementation with 2 – 3 grams of concentrated fish oil each day.
The effects of boosting omega-3 intake on Alzheimer’s disease has not been formally studied at this time, though one might anticipate some improvement in symptoms and a slowing in the progression of the disease in the long term. For quicker results, however, I recommend the herb Ginkgo biloba. This herb is renowned for its ability to boost circulation, which will help supply the brain with essential nutrients and fuel. In addition, Ginkgo biloba appears slow the deposition of the extraneous substance found in the Alzheimer’s disease-affected brains known as beta-amyloid.
Studies of at least six months in duration have found that extracts of Ginkgo bilobo are as effective as the cholinesterase inhibitor drugs in treating mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. One analysis of 33 trials found that the herb is generally safe, and may lead to significant improvements in brain function in those who take it. Ginkgo has blood-thinning effects, and should be used with some caution in individuals taking conventional blood-thinners such as warfarin. The normal recommended dose is 120 – 240 mg of Ginkgo biloba extract per day. For those looking for an alternative to conventional drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, I reckon fish fats and Ginkgo biloba are well worth getting into their heads.