Alzheimer’s, which affects almost 10 percent of the total elderly population, is a progressive degenerative disease of the neurotransmitters in the brain. Ironically, amino acids have been found to be both part of the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and potentially part of the cure for it.
Research has indicated the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s. Amyloid plaques are sticky substances that build up outside the neurons in the brain. For reasons as yet unknown, these defective plaques generate a substance called beta amyloid, which is toxic to the neurons. Preliminary research indicates that a specific gene may be responsible for the production of the defective amyloid plaques.
An amino acid, methionine, is also thought to contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s. Although methionine is an essential amino acid, which means that it is a necessary component of the human body, too much of it can be detrimental. Typically, methionine is found in fish, red meat, seeds and nuts. Although It is present in peppers and spinach, most vegetables and fruits are devoid of methionine. Since the body cannot synthesize methionine, it must be absorbed from food, but moderation is the key.
Amino Acids and Alternative Treatments
At the present, no specific amino acid treatment regimen is approved for Alzheimer patients. Although numerous studies have been conducted, there is at present insufficient correlation between the efficacy of amino acid treatments for Alzheimer’s patients and increased cognitive function. Due to the stringent research required by the Food and Drug Administration prior to approving any treatment or drug for Alzheimer patients, many pharmaceutical companies have abandoned their research and simply market their products under the label of medical food.
In one study, precursor amino acids of dopamine and serotonin were administered to 10 patients who had severe dementia as a result of Alzheimer’s. Of those 10 patients, only two showed subsequent improvement both clinically and psychologically, but the remainder showed no improvement.
However, orthomolecular medicine, which was conceptualized with the premise that by restoring the human body to its optimum chemical balance, most ailments can be cured or eliminated, advocates the use of minerals, trace elements, vitamins, fatty and amino acids to restore the chemical balance of the body, which may have been altered due to genetics or environmental or dietary factors. Since orthomolecular medicine is a relatively new field, there is insufficient data to either conclusively affirm or disprove the efficacy of their treatment protocols. However, there is evidence that an inadequate intake of niacin may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s and that folate and vitamins C, E and B12 may decrease the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. Individuals who have Alzheimer’s consistently have low levels of these substances in their blood.
The amino acid acetyl-L-carnitine, or ALC, has shown promise in preventing, halting or reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s. ALC transforms into acetylcholine when it reaches the brain. Acetylcholine is an effective antioxidant and has healing properties as well. Numerous studies have been conducted and all affirm the efficacy of ALC in treating or reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s. There has as yet been no evidence to repudiate these findings. However, since there is no evidence regarding the effects of long-term usage of ALC, doctors recommend that the amino acid be taken for not more than three weeks per month.
Of all the treatments available, ALC is the most promising and has had the most research conducted to determine its safety and its effectiveness.
Outlook for Alzheimer’s Patients
Medical science has made tremendous strides in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s since its discovery in 1906. Genetics have been determined to play a role in the development of this devastating disease and genetics also promise to play a role in the cure of it, since some individuals appear to possess a gene that delays or inhibits entirely the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. In the meantime, the addition of supplements and amino acids as indicated above may be the most beneficial in the fight against this horrific disease.
Nisha is a freelance writer helping to represent MHA in the UK. MHA is a UK based charity specialising in elderly care homes, elderly care and dementia care. We have been running for nearly 70 years now.
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This page was written by Jon Wade, principal author and editor of Medimise.