From the Vitamin Department: Neurodegenerative Disease & Disorders

As the population continues to age, neurodegenerative diseases and disorders have grown as a cause of both disability and death. The authors of “Supplemental Substances Derived from Foods as Adjunctive Therapeutic Agents for Treatment of Neurodegenerative Diseases and Disorders,” published in the July 2014 issue of Advances in Nutrition, have analyzed the most recent research findings on dietary and nutritional supplements that have demonstrated encouraging preventive or therapeutic effects on chronic neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, these authors assessed the results of studies examining the effects of supplements on neurodegeneration resulting from acute events such as traumatic brain injury.

Rosmarinic acid, found in common herbs such as rosemary and sage, was among the supplemental substances reviewed. The authors pointed to a number of studies in which rosmarinic acid proved to ameliorate symptoms of neurodegenerative disease. In one study, for example, daily administration of rosmarinic acid markedly improved cognitive and behavioral function among older adults diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s disease. While research is limited, there is also evidence that rosmarinic acid may be beneficial in treating victims of traumatic brain injury by reducing oxidative stress, neuronal cell death, and inflammatory responses.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid found in cold-water oceanic fish oils, is another promising supplement. Studies have shown that populations with high dietary intake of DHA exhibit a lower risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Results of clinical studies examining the therapeutic benefits of DHA supplementation, however, have been mixed. Some studies have demonstrated that DHA may delay the onset of age-related cognitive decline, but not in individuals who have already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Major advancements in our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases and traumatic brain injury have revealed common underlying pathologic features and mechanisms. This suggests that a single therapeutic approach may be used to treat multiple conditions. As a result, the supplements discussed in this review have the potential to prevent or treat a broad range of neurodegenerative diseases and brain injuries.

In summary, the authors noted that “the ability of dietary substances to confer therapeutic effects to neurodegenerative conditions still needs to be critically explored.” In particular, they have called for more research to study the possible therapeutic effects of combining various supplements.

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