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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Alzheimer’s disease has no cure. However, a range of alternative pharmaceutical treatments can assist towards giving a patient relief from the symptoms. There are also other, non-pharmaceutical treatments that can help improve the patient’s quality of life.

The five drugs approved for Alzheimer’s by the US Food and Drug Administration are Aricept, Cognex, Exelon, Razadyne and Namenda. Alternative treatments do not come under the scrutiny of the FDA. Their effectiveness, safety and purity are not known and consumer problems aren’t recorded. Before taking any alternative treatment, check with your doctor to see if your prescription medication or any other drug clashes with it. Limited testing has been done on alternative treatments, mainly small studies with inconclusive results.

Clioquinol, an antibiotic and metal chelator, may reduce Alzheimer’s progression. It inhibits beta-amyloid, a build up of cellular debris or plaques in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s. Studies are limited but encouraging. Patients have been found to have lower beta-amyloid levels, higher zinc levels, and slower cognitive decline albeit only in more severely affected people. In general, antibiotics have been found to improve mental function. Side effects include nausea, diarrhea and poor sleep. The Alzheimer’s Association does not recommend using antibiotics to treat the disease.

Coenzyme Q10 is a naturally occurring antioxidant providing the body with energy and is therefore promoted as a supplement for Alzheimer’s. The Mayo Clinic reports that preliminary research has found that it may slow down the disease. Idebenone is a synthetic variant of coenzyme Q10, and studies have claimed it to be an effective treatment. However, the Alzheimer’s Association says tests using a synthetic version of this drug were not favorable.

Coral calcium is from dead organisms that used to be part of a coral reef. It has been widely promoted as a cure for Alzheimer’s and other diseases such as cancer. The FDA has complained about it, saying there’s no scientific evidence to back the claims.

Ergoloid mesylates have been used to treat dementia for many years in Europe. They act as an anti-oxidant and dilator of blood vessels in the brain. Benefits so far are very limited. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, tongue irritation and appetite loss. Studies are small, and allergies to these drugs are common. They may not be suitable during pregnancy or breast feeding, or with liver disease, mental illness, low blood pressure or slow heart beat.

Estrogen is being looked at as a possible preventative medication in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s in females. It affects areas of the brain relevant to memory. Studies have found a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s and better cognition. Animal studies have found that estrogen assists memory. However, an increased likelihood of heart attack, stroke, breast and ovarian cancer, and high blood pressure has put future research in doubt.

Galantamine is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor that claims significant improvement in cognition and other symptoms in large trials of several hundred people. Functions and activities of patients improved, and they needed reduced caregiver support. Behavior also improved and Alzheimer’s progression was slowed. However, there were neurological side effects.

Ginko biloba is a plant extract that may have beneficial properties for the body and brain. The Chinese have used it for centuries. It is supposed to increase brain function and improve cognitive function. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, reduces plaques, and increases the flow of blood to the brain. Some studies have shown slight improvement in patients’ brain function, daily activities such as dressing, and better social behavior. Other studies have shown no effect. Side effects include clotting, and thus potentially internal bleeding, and it can react adversely with anesthesia. Risk may increase if taken with other blood-thinning drugs like aspirin and warfarin. The level of active ingredients can vary between ginko products.

Huperzine A is a moss extract from Chinese herb Huperzia serrata. It is used as a dietary supplement. Again, the Chinese have used it for a long time. It works in a similar way to the FDA approved Aricept by increasing the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Research has claimed it to be effective, with improvement shown in cognition, memory and behavior, but studies so far have been small. The FDA does not recommend it as there have been no significant studies into its effectiveness, safety or side effects. Manufacture is unregulated and has no uniform standards.

Melissa officinalis or lemon balm has been used for many years as a mild sedative that has a calming effect and reduces stress. It is used to improve memory too. It is thought to bind to acetylcholine. Small studies in England and Iran have found that it improves memory. No significant side effects have been found.

Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce cognitive decline according to research. Clinical trials of omega-3 have been small and inconclusive, but results from epidemiological and laboratory studies have been promising. They are known to reduce heart disease and stroke risk, benefit blood vessels, and may even help depression. A recent study found they might help nerve cells by assisting with the growth of branches linking cells to one another, creating a nerve cell forest that allows the brain to process and store information.

Phosphatidylserine is a fat in the membranes around nerve cells. These cells deteriorate with Alzheimer’s. The use of this drug may help the membrane to prevent or slow cells from degenerating. Animal tests were conducted in the UK with encouraging results, but the outbreak of mad cow disease ended the research. Since then, a clinical trial has been conducted of older people with memory impairment. Results were promising but larger trials would be needed before this drug can be used to treat Alzheimer’s.

Statin drugs have been found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. It is thought that statins help alpha-secretase to break down the amyloid proteins that promote a build-up of plaques in the brain. Statins are usually used to reduce cholesterol and treat vascular disease but more research is needed before using it for Alzheimer’s. Studies have been limited and participants weren’t selected randomly. Side effects are significant and include heart failure, cancer, neuropathy, pancreatic rot, muscle pain, dizziness and depression.

THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, may become a successful alternative treatment for the disease. A test tube study found that THC prevented plaque build-up more successfully than mainstream drugs. The study claimed that Aricept and Cognex blocked the formation of plague only 22 percent and seven percent as well as THC respectively.

Vitamin E supplements might slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s, although the rate is thought to be minimal. Studies suggest a mild improvement in function but not in cognition. However, side effects can include nausea, diarrhea and fatigue. It may have adverse interaction with other medication.

Non-pharmaceutical treatments are worth considering too, such as fruit and vegetable juices, herbal and green tea, sunlight, music and aroma therapy, and acupuncture, all of which may slow the Alzheimer’s process. Lastly, it should be said that a good diet and healthy lifestyle will also help.

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