Brain Health,
Smart Drugs,

#131: Fighting Alzheimer’s with Dr. Richard Wurtman

June 03, 2016

In episode 131, Jesse talks to Dr. Richard Wurtman, Cecil H.Green Distinguished Professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about a new dietary protocol that could prevent, or at least seriously reduce the progression of, Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dr. Wurtman, both a scientist and a medical doctor, wanted to develop a food-based treatment for pre-Alzheimer’s.  He found that individual foods can control the product of key brain chemicals.  Losing synapses is a major hallmark of Alzheimer’s, so the next question was:  can consuming certain foods or compounds create more synapses in the brain?

A Medical Food to Treat Alzheimer’s

The result:  Souvenaid, a medical food for people with Alzheimer’s or at risk of developing Alzheimer’s.  Medical foods are foods specially formulated for the treatment of a disease.

Along with phospholipids, antioxidants, and B vitamins, Souvenaid contains choline, DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), and uridine.  While the first two compounds can be easily obtained via diet, most of the uridine in foods is in the form of RNA, which is not bioavailable.  The only time people are regularly exposed to bioavailable RNA is in breast milk or infant formula.

The LipiDiDiet

A two-year study found that drinking 125 mL of Souvenaid per day protects pre-Alzheimer’s individuals against memory loss.

Souvenaid seems to work by enhancing the formation of synapses and reducing brain shrinkage, particularly in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores short-term memories for long-term retrieval.

The benefits are strongest when the LipiDiDiet is started in the earliest stages of the disease.

Something You Can’t DIY

Word to the wise:  The specific Souvenaid formula is what has been studied.  Taking the individual ingredients by themselves is not necessarily going to be useful.

For example, Souvenaid doesn’t just contain Choline.  It also has large amounts of the three vitamins (B6, B12, and folic acid) necessary for the liver to produce choline, amplifying the effects of the choline in the formula.

Need further proof?  The European Food Safety Commission ruled that it’s no longer allowed for DHA manufacturers to claim that DHA benefits cognition, because the data don’t support that claim.  However, it’s clear that in combination with the rest of the ingredients in Souvenaid, DHA does have a protective effect on memory.

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  1. ben says:

    So it sounds like Serotonin plays a significant role to reduce brain shrinkage and generate new synapses…

    It was emphasized repeatedly that it’s not enough to DIY b6, b12, folic, choline, DHA, and uridine, primarily due to the lack of a bio-available source of uridine..

    But why wouldn’t breast milk or even formula work? Human Milk Oligosaccharides’s gylcoproteins (ex. EndoBI-1) doesn’t get broken down, and feed the baby’s microbiome directly (ex.B. infantis)… so perhaps a similar effect, except with uridine, would work on adults. Also, serotonin is primarily made in the gut, granted this doesn’t cross to the brain directly, but an increase in the gut/brain signaling could activate the brain to convert tryptophan to serotonin, even in the presence of amino-acids (ex. leucine).

    TLDR, why wouldn’t breast milk or a comparable formula, be a source of bio-available uridine as well a potential seratonin enhancer? Radio Lab has a good episode entitled “Gut Feelings” with some interesting research done in this area.

    And for an entirely different (and surprising) take on Alzheimers, there’s a great interview with Dr. Dale Bredesen about the downsizing brain mechanism that occurs during Alzheimers:

    1. John says:

      Just a guess on the why it wouldn’t work to just take the active components. Thought I heard Dr. Wurtman say there was no direct evidence, not necessarily that there was evidence it wouldn’t. Speculation, but if you are trying to get an interested party to fund your research, maybe you don’t want to lead off with a big announcement that you can do just as well without the sponsor’s particular product by just taking the active ingredients?

      1. Jesse Lawler says:

        That’s not an unreasonable theory. 🙂

      2. ben says:

        Agreed, and as far as low-cost solutions go,

        There was a recent RadioLab podcast (“Bringing Gamma Back”) where they talk about an MIT study showing how flashing lights into the brain of pre-Alzheimer’s mice, actually caused the microglia to clean up the beta-amyloid peptides/plaques and restored their memories.

        The blue fiber-optic light administered thru a hole in the skull, apparently amplifies the natural 40hz gamma waves that should be present in thinking brains, but are weak in diseased brains. Surprisingly it also worked just by shining the light in their eyes!

        It’s yet to be seen of course in humans, and whether removing the plaques restores old memories and/or allows new memories to be formed once there is too much plaque.

        They also mention a 2006 study saying that 99.6% of all Alzheimer mice research fails when applied to humans. Bummer but still crazy interesting how this unconventional approach works on mice!

        Also, 60 minutes just aired an interesting segment about a village (Antioquia) in Columbia where they’ve identified young/non-symptomatic residents that are 100% guaranteed to get Alzheimers as they get older, due to a rare polymorphism in Chromosome 14. They are now undergoing a massive study to see if they are able to prevent it.

  2. John says:

    This is the first supplement I could feel working the first day. Despite the warning tried adding Uridine, DHA, and Choline to my supplements. I mostly select for some suspected long term benefit and not just temporary stimulative effect. The feeling is increased mental energy, faster and better mental function, improved outlook, and improved stamina. Like more of my brain is awake and working. Had to dial the dosage back from 500mg to 250 because my mind just felt too active. Don’t want to overstate, no breakthroughs in Quantum Physics or anything. Full disclosure, formula baby in my early fifties, don’t think I have Alzheimer’s, but then again, who does? 🙂

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