Can the course of early Alzheimer’s disease be delayed by consuming a special mixture of nutrients? This question was investigated in the European study called ‘LipiDiDiet’ led by Prof. Tobias Hartmann. 

The scientists recruited Alzheimer’s patients, who were in the early stages of the disease, to test the effectiveness of a specific nutritional drink called ‘Souvenaid’. Souvenaid was developed as a medical dietary food for the treatment of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and is marketed by Nutricia (Danone Group). It contains a defined nutrient combination of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids, choline, B vitamins (B6, B12 and folic acid), vitamins C and E, selenium and uridine monophosphate. 

In this randomized double-blind study, the 311 participants were divided into two groups. The treatment group received the drink daily for breakfast. The control group was given daily  the same amount of a placebo drink, but with identical taste, consistency, color and calorie content. Neither patients, physicians nor researchers knew who was given the placebo or the multinutrient drink. 

The primary study endpoint was the slowing of cognitive decline. It was measured by a neuropsychological test battery, i.e., a combination of standardized cognitive testing procedures which measures not only the change in cognitive performance but also the ability to perform certain executive functions, such as planning, strategy and working memory. Furthermore, clinical aspects were also investigated using imaging techniques. Thus, structural brain changes could be directly recorded and assessed. 

Initial interim results after 24 months indicated some efficacy of the sip feed, but the differences in cognitive deterioration between the two patient groups were not significant. 

In September 2020, results after 36 months of treatment were published. They revealed significant differences between the two groups: Patients in the intervention group were measured to have 22 percent less brain atrophy, meaning that the brain mass of the treated Alzheimer’s patients had shrunk significantly less than that of the control group. Thus, the degenerative change process in the brain could be significantly slowed down by the nutrient preparation. In particular, the deterioration in the memory region of the brain (hippocampus), was 33 percent less in the treated patients than in the control group. It was also observed in regard to cognitive brain performance: it deteriorated 60 percent less, i.e. significantly less, in the treated subjects than in the no-treated patients.

Thus, the results of this study made it clear that such nutritional supplementation is not an effective concept in the short term. The effects seem to consolidate only with longer-term treatment, which was more than clearly shown by the comparison after 3 years with the interim results after 2 years. The researchers further found that the positive effects of the sip feed increased over the course of the treatment period and were not only focused on the memory region, but also extended to other cognitive areas. For example, the subjects were better able to cope with everyday challenges, such as paying bills, remembering routes, etc., than the control group.

This means that long-term intake of this specific multinutrient combination partially protects brain structures and reduces cognitive and functional decline in early Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, these nutrients appear to play a central role in reducing the neurodegenerative process in AD, suggesting a special nutritional need in AD. 

However, since it can be assumed that the disease begins decades before the first symptoms appear, but this cannot yet be measured with current methods, the timing to start therapy would also be crucial: the earlier, the better. Thus, not only the long-term duration of treatment would be important, but also the early start of treatment in the course of the disease. 

Despite intensive research, there is unfortunately still no medication that could cure Alzheimer’s disease. The currently available drugs can temporarily improve the symptoms, but let the patients fall back into the initial situation after some time. A sustained 3-year benefit of treatment, such as that achieved in this study with a defined nutrient mixture, has not yet been reported in incipient AD. With this in mind, the slower progression of the disease would already be a great success and is certainly a good start. 

These findings emphasize once again that AD is a generalized metabolic disorder in which monocausal therapies alone cannot lead to success, but multifactorial strategies must be used. And the international FINGER study (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) has already impressively demonstrated that multimodal prevention approaches can also pass clinical testing effectively. The ‘Souvenaid’ study is certainly a good start, as a sustained positive effect in terms of cognition, function and brain atrophy in an intervention for incipient Alzheimer’s disease has not yet been reported. Future studies could further clarify whether the efficacy of nutrient supplementation can be further enhanced if started at an even earlier stage, over a period longer than 3 years, as part of a multimodal intervention (e.g. FINGER trial) or in combination with pharmaceutical therapies.

Conclusion: 

The results of the aforementioned studies impressively underline that the multifactorial catalog of measures proposed by Knowledge stops Dementia – and especially a conscious diet that protects the brain – is the royal road in dementia prevention. It offers us a multitude of prevention strategies with which we can reduce our individual risk of Alzheimer’s disease by consistently minimizing avoidable risk factors and by adhering to a healthy lifestyle that includes not only nutrition but also other factors such as exercise, quality of sleep, social contacts, and so on. At the project ‘Knowledge stops Dementia’ you will find a lot more exciting and helpful information on this, so that you can maintain your mental health for as long as possible!

References:

  1. Soininen H et al. (2017) 36-month LipiDiDiet multinutrient clinical trial in prodromal Alzheimer’s disease . Alzheimer’s and Dementia: 1-12 
  2. Soininen H et al. (2020) 24-month intervention with a specific mulitnutrient in people with predromal Alzheimer´s disease (LipiDiDiet): a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial. Lancet Neurol 16: 965–975 
  3. Ngandu T et al. (2015) A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 365: 2255–2263 
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