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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, January 24, 2014
Dementia on the G8 Agenda
The Good, the Bad, and the Encouraging News
by Gert Schuitemaker, PhD and Robert G. Smith, PhD
(OMNS Jan 24, 2014) On December 11, 2013, a special G8 summit for health ministers was held in London. The topic was dementia. The summit was called by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who wants to encourage health authorities to seize the initiative taking action against this condition. The G8-health ministers, together with scientists, medical doctors, pharmacists, and health organizations discussed a new approach to study and treat this burgeoning disorder that is estimated to cost around EUR 440 billion (almost US $600 billion) annually.
In anticipation of the summit, several leading British doctors and scientists jointly composed and signed a letter to the Prime Minister and the Health Minister Jeremy Hunt. Among them was Dr. Clare Gerada, the former president of the Royal College of General Practitioners. To fight against dementia, the letter strongly argued the case for more healthy food as a better approach than drugs, for example, a diet rich in vegetables and low in meat. The authors gave as an example the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to increase cognitive function and reduce the risk of dementia. This is the core of a healthy lifestyle. In a commentary in the newspaper The Telegraph, one of the authors explained that poor diet causes more illnesses than inactivity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Another of the authors stated that the medical profession currently places too much emphasis on the use of drug treatments, which are less effective for improving health and preventing dementia than excellent nutrition.
After the summit, the assembled ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, Russia and Canada came up with a joint statement, the G8 Dementia Summit Declaration.[2,3] It called for more attention and funding on the global problem of dementia. However, it contained no words on nutrition, nor any hint of the suggestion from the British doctors and scientists about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Instead, the emphasis was on drugs. The press quoted the British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said that the world needs to fight dementia in the same way as AIDS. He was referring to a previous meeting in 2005 where the focus was placed on the development and use of better drugs against AIDS. His vision was, "Now we must do the same with dementia."
The most encouraging news, however, came a few weeks later from a completely different angle. It concerned a new study on the effect of vitamin E on Alzheimer's disease. Dementia can have many causes, including decreased blood flow to the brain. Vitamin E is known to enhance blood flow and help prevent oxidative stress that can cause progression of age-related disease. Approximately 70% of those with dementia have Alzheimer's, in which brain cells show progressive degeneration. Two previous studies published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine testing the effect of vitamin E supplements given to patients with mild cognitive impairment or moderate Alzheimer's were conflicting.[4,5] One showed vitamin E can slow the progressive decline in the moderate form, but the other showed no effect on mild cognitive impairment.
However, the year 2014 began with the publication in the highly regarded Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) from a study of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's similar to the previous two studies. The patients were given the same dose of 2,000 IU of vitamin E, a placebo, or the drug memantine against Alzheimer's disease. The study showed that supplementation with vitamin E slowed the decline compared to placebo, but the drug showed no significant effect. The patients were followed for two and a half years by measuring their performance on a daily questionnaire. Data from 561 patients showed that those taking vitamin E functioned significantly better in daily life, and required the least care. The researchers concluded that supplementation with vitamin E may slow the decline in Alzheimer's patients.
Putting all of this together, the British health minister was deaf to the good news about the Mediterranean diet. The G8 Dementia Summit did not include nutrition in their recommendations on treating Alzheimer's disease. So this will probably not be discussed at the upcoming G8 summit. Yet, it is now clear that vitamin E supplements, at a high but safe dose of 2,000 IU (the RDA is about 15 IU) can help to prevent Alzheimer's. The combination of Mediterranean diet with vitamin E supplementation shows great potential to slow progression towards dementia. The official health policies of the G8 countries still have a long way to go before they recognize the truth about nutrition in preventing age-related disease.
1. The Telegraph, December 8, 2013. Mediterranean diet key to dementia battle, PM told. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/10504774/Mediterranean-diet-key-to-dementia-battle-PM-told.html
2. UK Department of Health (2013) G8 dementia summit concludes with international agreement to work together. http://www.dementiachallenge.dh.gov.uk .
3. The G8 dementia summit declaration. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/g8-dementia-summit-agreements .
4. Sano M, Ernesto C, Thomas RG, Klauber MR, et al. (1997) A controlled trial of selegiline, alpha-tocopherol, or both as treatment for Alzheimer's disease. The Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study. N Engl J Med. 336(17):1216-1222. http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJM199704243361704
5. Petersen RC, Thomas RG, Grundman M, et al (2005) Vitamin E and donepezil for the treatment of mild cognitive impairment. N Engl J Med. 352(23):2379-2388. http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa050151
6. Dysken MW, Sano M, Asthana S, et al. (2014) Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: the TEAM-AD VA cooperative randomized trial. JAMA. 311(1):33-44. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.282834. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24381967 [or: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1810379]
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Karin Munsterhjelm-Ahumada, M.D. (Finland)
Erik Paterson, M.D. (Canada)
W. Todd Penberthy, Ph.D. (USA)
Gert E. Schuitemaker, Ph.D. (Netherlands)
Robert G. Smith, Ph.D. (USA)
Jagan Nathan Vamanan, M.D. (India)
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