The last post talked a lot about healthy-living strategies for Alzheimer’s prevention, but it’s also important to know about the best Alzheimer’s supplements – especially when there are so many products to choose from. There is a limited body of research for natural supplements in Alzheimer’s disease, but some of the strategies are promising, and could often be used alongside conventional drugs for memory loss and dementia.
Ketogenic diet, Coconut Oil and MCTs
Perhaps the best known alternative therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, these three therapies are just different ways of skinning the same cat. The theory behind this therapy is that while your body can use many fuel sources, your brain is limited to glucose, or sugar, as a fuel. In order for your cells, including your brain cells to use sugar they have to be able to respond effectively to insulin signaling. If your diet has always been a little higher in sugars or starches, or if you have a genetic tendency towards blood sugar abnormalities including diabetes then you may not have good insulin signaling. The first sign of this is usually something called metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the first step along the path towards both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.In good news, even if your insulin signaling isn’t so good, there is a back-door to brain fuel, which allows you to bypass both glucose and insulin. This back-door is called ketones. Ketones are made when your body breaks down fats for fuel instead of sugar and they can feed your brain even when glucose can’t. Ketogenic diets have been used to help children with epilepsy that is uncontrolled by drugs alone to reduce their seizure frequency and evidence with Alzheimer’s suggests that this could potentially be a good diet for neuroprotection in general. Ketogenic diets generally have a 4:1or 3:1 ratio of good dietary fats: proteins and carbohydrates (including starches and sugar) combined. There are urine test strips, called keto-strips, that you can use to test your urine to see if your body is in ketosis. Obviously this isn’t the easiest diet to maintain long-term so using fats that are more ketogenic, like coconut oil or MCT, can help.
Coconut oil is unique in that it contains a high proportion of a type of fat called medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs. Most of the fats that we eat in our diet are made of long-chain triglycerides, but the shorter MCTs are more efficient for your body to convert into ketones, and so are more able to fuel your brain if glucose isn’t working. If a full ketogenic diet is too difficult then using raw coconut oil, or the extracted MCTs from coconut oil can help boost your brain power. In fact, five tablespoons of coconut oil or MCT oil spread out through the day is one of the best Alzheimer’s disease supplements that we know of. In fact a pilot study published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease indicated that neurons treated with amyloid-beta (which induces the changes of Alzhimer’s disease) were actually protected by the addition of coconut oil.
Antioxidants – Some of the Best Alzheimer’s Supplements Around
One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is extensive oxidative stress throughout the brain and neurological system. This includes the typical free radical formation, as well as protein and lipid oxidation (which means free radicals steal electrons from proteins and fats), DNA oxidation (scary thought – stealing electrons from your genes), and neuron death. Many antioxidants have been studied (here, here, here and many other places too) to help prevent or reverse this type of damage including:
- CoQ10 – This substance acts as an antioxidant and also stimulates energy production at a cellular level. Not only that, it helps protect your heart.
- Vitamin E – especially the gamma-tocopherol form, which is more fat soluble and crosses into the brain more effectively.
- Ferulic acid – this is a phenolic compound found in flax seeds, coffee beans, apples, artichokes, peanuts, fennel and other plants. It is a strong anti-oxidant and in animal studies has shown direct effects against breast and liver cancer.
- Polyphenols – including quercetin (from many foods) and resveratrol (from red grapes or red wine). These are good anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants.
- Alpha-lipoic acid – this fat-soluble (so brain-friendly) antioxidant will also help to lower blood sugars so that makes it one of the best Alzheimer’s supplements out there. It’s a double-whammy.
- N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) – this amino acids helps your body to recycle glutathione, which is your master antioxidant. It also helps to break up mucus and congestion, which can also be helpful in an elderly population.
- EGCG – this is the most-researched antioxidant from green tea and has shown benefits to brain health, heart health and aging generally.
- Curcumin – this strong anti-inflammatory from turmeric has shown a tremendous preventative effect in Alzheimer’s disease and helps to protect your brain from oxidative damage as well as inflammatory changes.
- Melatonin – this is your natural sleep hormone, which has the added bonus of helping Alzheimer’s patients to sleep more soundly – which is usually one of the worst issues for both caregivers and patients in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
The research evidence shows that each one alone has significant benefits, but that combining a variety of different antioxidants is the best strategy for Alzheimer’s disease. My favorite combination of supplements to start with would be alpha-lipoic acid 600 mg per day (take this one with food because the blood sugar drop on an empty stomach can be significant), CoQ10 400 IUs, and an antioxidant combo with vitamin A, E, and C in it at the minimum but look for some of the others as well. Also a cup or two of green tea daily and melatonin, 3-20 mg at night for sleep. Of course you should talk with your doctor before starting this or any other suggestion.
Magnesium for Alzheimer’s Disease
Magnesium levels in the brain help to increase the density and plasticity of brain synapses. This means your brain cells can connect to each other more frequently and with more flexibility – changing more effectively as you learn new skills. Unfortunately keeping magnesium levels high in the brain, or even in the body, can be a challenge with modern diets – here is my recent post on Magnesium in general. There are a couple of types of magnesium that might help with this:
- Magnesium threonate – has been shown to be effective in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s. It improved brain levels of magnesium and prevented and reversed cognitive defects as well as synaptic loss. This form of magnesium is taken orally so the dose is limited by bowel tolerance because any magnesium that you take orally will cause loose stools if the dose is higher than your body can absorb at one time.
- Magnesium Oil – this form of magnesium, which is usually magnesium chloride, is applied topically so there is no trouble with the bowel tolerance issue. There aren’t any research studies specifically about topical magnesium in Alzheimer’s disease, but logically this could be a good addition to the magnesium threonate to help restore magnesium in the brain and body. Magnesium oil can be applied several times per day and allows magnesium to absorb directly through the skin. Use caution on cuts or scrapes (or newly shaved skin) because it burns like salt water would.
Huperzine A – Best Alzheimer’s Supplement mimicking drug activity
Huperzine A, which is an Alzheimer’s drug in China, is sold over the counter in the US as a nutritional supplement. It is a plant sourced compound that has strong acetylcholinesterase inhibiting activity in the brain – just like the most common class of drug used to treat Alzheimers, which are cholinesterase inhibitors. This includes the drugs Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, Cognex and Namenda. Huperzine A has also shown neuroprotective effects as well as the surprising ability to reduce iron levels in the brain – and this may also be beneficial in Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease is debilitating and tragic, but there is so much we can do to both prevent it as well as to slow down the progression. The products that I consider to be the best supplements for Alzheimer’s is not a complete list of everything out there, but they are the supplements that I feel have the most credible research behind them. As a starting place the lifestyle steps in the prevention article should be priority one, followed by the addition of useful supplements including coconut oil, a mix of antioxidants, magnesium and huperzine A. Above all, it is helpful to work with a practitioner who can help to guide you in these times and make sure any supplements or nutritional changes you make will work well with any pharmaceutical medicines you are taking.