Good exercise is better than Souvenaid

Published on Thursday, 31 January 2013 16:14
Written by Jessica Smith

Web Editor, Scott Buckler sat down with Alzheimer's Society Research Communications Officer, Jessica Smith, to discuss the recently developed Souvenaid drink which claims to meet the nutritional needs of people with early Alzheimer’s disease

Jessica, has Souvenaid not passed clinical tests to prove its statement of easing effects of early Alzheimer's related memory loss?

Souvenaid was tested in a trial of people with very mild or probably Alzheimer's disease, who were not taking any other Alzheimer's disease medications. The trial showed benefits for memory, but not any effect on other measures of thinking or everyday living, or any effects on other symptoms of dementia. Rigorous evidence is needed in order for medicines and treatments to qualify for prescription and so more trials would be needed on this.

Why are you dubious about its effectiveness?

The trial of Souvenaid compared it with a placebo, and not current Alzheimer's treatments; as a result, we can only see that it is better for memory than nothing. This is likely to cost about £1000 a year and is a lot less effective than current drugs available for people in the early stages of dementia. For many older people with dementia where finances might be tight, people are probably much better off putting their money towards good quality care or taking part in exercise.

Which current drugs are more effective and why?

There are no drug treatments available that can provide a cure for Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. However, medicines have been developed that can improve symptoms, or temporarily slow down their progression, in some people. There are two main types of medication used to treat Alzheimer's disease - acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and NMDA receptor antagonists - which work in different ways. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors include donepezil hydrochloride (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon) and galantamine (Reminyl). The NMDA receptor antagonist is memantine (Ebixa).

Between 40 and 70 per cent of people with Alzheimer's disease benefit from cholinesterase inhibitor treatment, but it is not effective for everyone and may improve symptoms only temporarily, between six and 12 months in most cases. According to an Alzheimer's Society survey of 4,000 people, those using these treatments often experience improvements in motivation, anxiety levels and confidence, in addition to daily living, memory and thinking.

Souvenaid only claims to help create an environment in which new synapses can be created, improving memory and reducing memory loss, not to 'cure' Alzheimer's completely. Does it have any benefits in this context or as part of a wider programme of treatments?

The benefits of Souvenaid in this context have not been proven.  It would be easy to look directly at whether synapses were being increased by testing the product in animal studies. This hasn't been done and therefore any benefits of this nature remain unproven theories.

Is it true that nutritional factors are often ignored when assessing/diagnosing Alzheimer's?

It is standard practice (as recommended by NICE guidelines) when someone presents to their GP showing signs and symptoms of dementia, for doctors to rule out other conditions which could be causing confusion in a person by conducting a blood test. This has the purpose of shedding light on other contributing factors.

We do know that nutritional factors can play a part in causing the onset of dementia. But, there are things people can do to reduce their risk of developing the condition. While there is no definitive way of preventing it, we now know that dementia is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. This means changing the way you live can have a real impact. Leading a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing dementia by as much as 20%. A healthy lifestyle should include keeping a healthy weight, doing regular exercise, eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables and managing blood pressure and cholesterol.

If diagnosed early enough, can't Souvenaid make a difference to the progression of Alzheimer's, either alone or part of wider course of treatments?

While past studies of this product have showed some benefits for memory, there is no evidence that it has an effect on other aspects of thinking or everyday life, and there was also no benefit on other symptoms of dementia or in slowing the progression of the condition. Souvenaid has not been tested in combination with other Alzheimer's treatments, so we do not know what effects it may or may not have in that situation. Also, there have been no tests to suggest that it has more benefits as part of a regime.

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