LipiDiDiet study finds possible nutrition intervention for early Alzheimer's

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Trial participants who received a multi-nutrient formulation over an extended period of time showed a significantly less rapid deterioration in cognitive performance than patients in a control group who received only a placebo, according to new findings from the ongoing European LipiDiDiet study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia.

The LipiDiDiet study is a broad-based, long-term study of over three hundred participants who originally showed initial symptoms of memory impairment. The study was designed to investigate the effects of treating patients with a specially formulated medical food.

The study included 311 patients in eleven hospitals who have been monitored for three years. Trial participants received an active nutrient drink, while participants in the control group were given a placebo drink that was identical in terms of taste, texture, and appearance. Neither the patients, nor the doctors and researchers, knew who had been given the placebo and who had received the multi-nutrient drink, according to the study.

The multi-nutrient formulation is a commercially available medical food, which contains a specific combination of essential fatty acids, vitamins, and other nutrients. The product used in the study contained docosahexaenoic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, uridine monophosphate, choline, vitamins B12, B6, C, E, and folic acid, phospholipids, and selenium, the study said.

Earlier preclinical research by the LipiDiDiet consortium and other laboratories, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has shown that these nutrients can reduce several changes typically seen in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients, the researchers said. Subsequent clinical studies demonstrated positive results from memory and EEG measurements that indicate increased brain activity in the trial participants that were given the nutrient drink.

The early stages of Alzheimer's disease are characterized by a decline in brain and memory function, with short-term memory loss particularly affected. By examining the cerebrospinal fluid and using magnetic resonance brain imaging techniques that can show hippocampal shrinkage typical of Alzheimer's disease, the researchers were able to identify patients at the prodromal stage.

Previously published preliminary results showed that this nutrition-based intervention has a positive impact on the progression of the disease. The current results found 20 percent less brain shrinkage in patients with Alzheimer's disease who received the multi-nutrient drink than in those in the control group, which represents a significant slowing in the rate of brain atrophy, the researchers said. Additionally, the researchers said the results demonstrate that over the three years of treatment, patients who were given the multi-nutrient drink suffered between 40 and 70 percent less cognitive impairment than those who received the placebo.

Globally, around 47 million people are currently suffering from Alzheimer's disease or a similar neurodegenerative dementia, for which there is at present no known cure. Over the next 20 years, scientists expect this number to double, with forecasts suggesting that there will be around 130 million sufferers in 2050. 

“Despite significant research efforts, we still do not have any medications that can cure early-stage Alzheimer's disease,” said Tobias Hartmann, MD, professor of experimental neurology at Saarland University and coordinator of the European LipiDiDiet study, in a statement. “Some of these drugs are able to provide temporary relief for certain symptoms, but after a while the patients usually return to their earlier pre-treatment state. In light of this, the positive effects that we have been able to achieve with our special multi-nutrient drink are a major success. Our hope is that the significantly slower progression that we see in our patients will continue so that they can maintain their independence well into old age.”