Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of severe mental deterioration (dementia) in the elderly. It has been estimated that 30% to 50% of people over 85 years old suffer from this condition. Its cause is not known. However, microscopic examination of the brains of people who have died of Alzheimer’s shows loss of cells in the thinking part of the brain, particularly cells that release a chemical called acetylcholine.
Alzheimer's begins with subtle symptoms, such as loss of memory for names and recent events. It progresses from difficulty learning new information to a few eccentric behaviors to depression, loss of spontaneity, and anxiety. Over the course of the disease, the person gradually loses the ability to carry out the activities of everyday life. Disorientation, asking questions repeatedly, and an inability to recognize friends are characteristics of moderately severe Alzheimer's. Eventually, virtually all mental functions fail.
Similar symptoms may be caused by conditions other than Alzheimer's disease, such as multiple small strokes (called multi-infarct or vascular dementia), severe alcoholism, and certain more rare causes. It is very important to begin with an examination to discover what is causing the symptoms of mental decline. Various easily treatable conditions, such as depression, can mimic the symptoms of dementia.
Four drugs have shown at least modest benefit for Alzheimer's disease or non-Alzheimer's dementia: Reminyl, Exelon, Aricept, and Cognex. These medications usually produce a modest improvement in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease by increasing the duration of action of acetylcholine. However, they can cause sometimes severe side effects due to the exaggeration of acetylcholine's action in other parts of the body.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
There are two natural treatments for Alzheimer's disease with significant scientific evidence behind them: ginkgo and phosphatidylserine . Huperzine A and vinpocetine , while more like drugs than natural remedies, may also improve mental function in people with dementia. Acetyl-L-carnitine was once considered a promising option for this condition as well, but current evidence suggests that it does not work.
double-blind, placebo-controlled studiesGinkgo bilobaGinkgo biloba
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Ginkgo article.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is one of the many substances involved in the structure and maintenance of cell membranes. Double-blind studies involving a total of more than 1,000 people suggest that phosphatidylserine is an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
However, the form of phosphatidylserine available as a supplement has altered since the studies described above were performed, and the currently available form may not be equivalent. For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Phosphatidylserine article.
Huperzine A is a chemical derived from a particular type of club moss ( Huperzia serrata ). Like caffeine and cocaine, huperzine A is a medicinally active, plant-derived chemical that belongs to the class known as alkaloids. This substance is really more a drug than an herb, but it is sold over-the-counter as a dietary supplement for memory loss and mental impairment.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Huperzine A article.
Vinpocetine is a chemical derived from vincamine, a constituent found in the leaves of common periwinkle ( Vinca minor ) as well as the seeds of various African plants. It is used as a treatment for memory loss and mental impairment.
Developed in Hungary more than 20 years ago, vinpocetine is sold in Europe as a drug under the name Cavinton. In the US, it is available as a so-called dietary supplement, although the substance probably does not fit that category by any rational definition. Vinpocetine does not exist to any significant extent in nature. Producing it requires significant chemical work performed in the laboratory.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Vinpocetine article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -