Field of Science

Alzheimer’s treatments don’t work, but you can buy them on the Internet

A new NIH-sponsored review of the scientific literature on Alzheimer’s disease has some disappointing news: nothing works. The panel's chair, Martha Daviglus, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University, said "We wish we could tell people that taking a pill or doing a puzzle every day would prevent this terrible disease, but current evidence doesn't support this."

Despite the lack of evidence, plenty of internet quacks are happy to recommend all sorts of supplements to treat Alzheimer’s, as we’ll see in below. First, the NIH panel’s main conclusion:
“There is currently no evidence of even moderate scientific quality supporting the association of any modifiable factor—dietary supplement intake, use of prescription or non-prescription drugs, diet, exercise, and social engagement—with reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. The evidence surrounding risk reduction for cognitive decline is similarly limited.”
In other words, we can’t cure it, and we can’t even delay it.

Not surprisingly, our old friend “Dr.” Joseph Mercola (he’s an osteopath, not an M.D., and I promise to write more about that one day) has plenty of recommendations to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s. He even has a web page showing his “top 5 tips to beat Alzheimer’s.” Let’s look at what he has to offer.

1. “Eat Healthy.” Mercola claims here that “Omega-3 fats, such as those from animal-based sources like krill oil, have also been found to help ward off Alzheimer’s and diabetes.” Wait, does Mercola sell krill oil? You bet! He even has a special webpage for his krill oil products, and ads for it appear all over his site. In direct contradiction to Mercola, the NIH report says “In a single randomized trial of omega-3 fatty acids with only 26 weeks of follow-up, there appeared to be no effect on cognitive functioning.”

2. “Exercise.” Although Mercola is wrong to claim that exercise reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s – the NIH report says it doesn't – at least this is good general health advice.

3. “Avoid Mercury.” Uh oh, now we’re getting deep into the woo. There’s no evidence that mercury causes Alzheimer’s, and Mercola goes well beyond just saying “avoid mercury.” He advises you to “remove dental amalgam fillings, which are one of the major sources of mercury.” This bit of unscientific advice has been around for decades, but it’s little more than pseudoscience. I recommend the excellent Quackwatch site for a detailed debunking of this one. It's so widespread that several official reports have investigated it, and the American Dental Association reported back in 1998 that amalgam fillings are safe and effective.

Mercola has a second bit of very bad advice here: he suggests that you avoid thimerosal-containing vaccines. As I’ve written before, Mercola is a major anti-vaccination scaremonger, and here he goes again – suggesting, without any evidence (and no citations to any scientific studies) that vaccines may cause Alzheimer’s.

4. “Avoid Aluminum.” According to Mercola, “aluminum has long been associated with Alzheimer's disease.” The NIH report, in contradiction to this, says no such association has been found. So who should you believe, an independent panel of distinguished experts on Alzheimer’s, or an Internet osteopath selling supplements based on unproven claims? Oh, and Mercola gets in another anti-vaccination claim here: he says that “some vaccines also contain aluminum.”

And don’t forget to “avoid aluminum cookware”! And hey... does Mercola sell cookware? You betcha! He calls it “the safe alternative to toxic cookware.”

5. “Exercise Your Mind.” The NIH report says this one isn’t proven either, but at least it doesn’t do any harm.

What we really know is that the main risk factors for Alzheimer's are things we have no control over: age and genetics, particularly the APOE protein (which I wrote about recently). The NIH panel recommends much more research, which is desperately needed. If people would donate their money to Alzheimer’s research rather than wasting it on ineffective treatments, maybe we’d find a cure just a little bit sooner.

2 comments:

  1. i just left a tiny comment on Dr. Mercola's page...i wonder which is worse, hopeless skepticism or unfounded hope

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hmm. But this ain't the whole story....

    Excersize of the mind and body DOES reduce the risk of other types of senial dimentia and strokes, as do omega 3's.

    Furthermore. It while it is true that there is nothing that we can do to prevent or delay altzimers, there IS a treatment. Use of certain types of stimulants DO improve the memory skills of alzimers patients over the short term(just as these same drugs improve the memory skills of normal individuals).

    ReplyDelete

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