A nutrient “cocktail” – containing omega-3 fatty acids and other natural beneficial dietary compounds – helped improve the memory of patients with early Alzheimer's disease and promoted new connections between brain cells, according to a new study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers.
The supplement mixture, known as Souvenaid, appears to stimulate growth of new synapses in the brain that boost memory and cognitive function, said Richard Wurtman, a professor emeritus of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT who invented the cocktail.
Wurtman noted Alzheimer's patients gradually lose those the connections between brain cells, known as synapses, which leads to memory loss and other mental problems.
"You want to improve the numbers of synapses, not by slowing their degradation — though of course you'd love to do that too — but rather by increasing the formation of the synapses," Wurtman said.
Souvenaid – a mixture of choline, uridine and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA – appears to stimulate growth of new synapses. Choline can be found in meats, nuts and eggs, and omega-3 fatty acids are found in a variety of sources, including fish, eggs, flaxseed and meat from grass-fed animals. Uridine is produced by the liver and kidney, and is in some foods as a component of RNA. These nutrients are precursors to the lipid molecules that make up brain-cell membranes, which form synapses.
Wurtman’s findings, which were reported in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, cap 10 years of research into the idea of targeting synapse loss to combat Alzheimer's.
The study involved 259 patients with mild Alzheimer's who drank Souvenaid or an inactive placebo beverage daily for three months. After six months, the patients on Souvenaid scored better on a test of verbal memory, and continued to show improvements. No serious side effects were observed.
Brain scans of the patients also showed that, as the trial went on, the brain activity of those receiving the supplements started to shift from patterns typical of dementia to more normal patterns.
New studies are now underway involving patients who don't have Alzheimer's, but have mild cognitive impairment.
Plans for commercial release of the supplement are being finalized, according to Nutricia, the company testing and marketing Souvenaid. Nutricia is the health care division of the food company Dannon. MIT has patented the mixture of nutrients used in the study, and Nutricia holds the license on the patent.