B Vitamins for Dementia; Galantamine for Alzheimer’s

Q I was told that vitamin B3 or B12 is best for turning around dementia in the elderly. Is this so and if so, what products might you carry; and if not so, do you carry a product that does?

JAMIE Bethlehem, PA

A There is no magic bullet for “turning around” dementia. However, there are nutrients that can be beneficial, especially if used to help slow progression toward the kind of memory loss that you appear to be concerned with, the vascular type (versus the neural circuitry type; see further in this answer). Studies have shown that vitamins B12 and B6 (but not vitamin B3, niacin*), along with folate, may be of benefit because they lower levels of homocysteine.

*Yet niacin might be of value for memory, much as statins are thought to improve cognition by lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL cholesterol. To date, this has not been proven.

Briefly stated, dementia is a loss of cognitive ability in a previously-unimpaired person that significantly affects memory and memory function, aside from what might normally be expected from aging. It might be static (caused by a unique global brain injury), or progressive (stemming from a long-term decline owing to damage or disease). That said, over the past century, there have been two major schools of thought among medical researchers about the true nature of dementia.

One school—the “plumbers,” who dominate in the United States—holds that the problems are largely vascular in nature, having to do primarily with hemodynamics (blood circulation) and its impairment via hypertension and atherosclerosis. Heart attacks, in this scenario, are caused by obstructions in the coronary arteries: they interrupt the blood flow to a portion of the heart tissue, killing it (and, often, its owner).

The other school—the “electricians,” who prevail in Europe—holds that the problems are largely of neuroendocrine origin, i.e., they involve the damage done when the functional relationships between the nervous system (which is governed by electrochemistry) and the endocrine system (which is all about hormonal biochemistry) go awry in various ways. The principal “actors” in this scenario are catecholamines, corticosteroids, and electrolytes, whose dysfunctional interplay causes many heart attacks that involve no obstructions at all.

One type of dementia—by far the most common type—is Alzheimer’s disease, which seems to be mainly the result of dysfunctions in the brain’s neural circuitry. Understanding this disease requires high-level “electricians.” Another dementia, one whose name is a dead giveaway to its origin, is vascular dementia (the third most common type after Lewy body dementia). It’s caused by dysfunctions of the cerebrovascular system—which is, of course, a part of the overall cardiovascular system. Clearly, understanding this disease requires sophisticated “plumbers.” Depending on which school you are partial to alters the area of your focus, and the hypotheses and solutions that you consider.

For vascular dementia, the B vitamins discussed in this answer have been shown to be of value. (Please see “Folic Acid Improves Cognitive Function” in the November 2007 issue, “Folic Acid Improves Memory in the Elderly” in the April 2007 issue, “Vitamin B12—How Much Is Enough?” In the November 2006 issue, and “Brain Assault to Homocysteine’s Rap Sheet” in the February 2006 issue. For other nutrients, also see “Resveratrol and Ginkgo Battle the Scourge of Dementia” in the February 2004 issue, and “Can High-Quality Lemon Balm Ease Dementia?” In the January 2004 issue.)

For Alzheimer’s disease, galantamine—along with turmeric, choline plus cofactors, green tea, quercetin, lithium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and C, B12, B6, and folate—are promising (see “Galantamine Helps in Parkinson’s Disease with Dementia” in the December 2003 issue, “Preventing Dementia Can Boost Life Expectancy” in the June 2001 issue, and “Galantamine’s Antidementia Action Expands” in the March 2004 issue.) All told, Life Enhancement has published well over 100 major articles on galantamine, unquestionably making its website the most comprehensive source of information about galantamine on the planet. (All articles are accessible from the search engine on the home page, www.life-enhancement.com).

Whoever is your source of information, you owe it to yourself to ask, “What is the scientific publication from which your recommendations are drawn?” Life Enhancement always cites the primary sources (original reports of the research), having studied the literature, not only of the study, but also of the topic and related disciplines as well. You should accept nothing less.

By the way, also at www.life-enhancement.com is an “Ingredient List” which allows an interested person to search through the entire website for related products and articles. Please use it.

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