Alzheimer's disease affects 30 million people worldwide, but as of yet, we still don't have a good treatment for it. However, that could be about to change, thanks to new research by the UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
In their research and experiments, for the first time, scientists successfully reversed memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease with a new combination therapeutic approach.
Although there have been dozens of drug trials for treating Alzheimer's, no one drug has really worked. However, these researchers looked at the disease and targeted it with a 36-point combination approach that included diet, exercise, vitamins and even meditation.
These therapies worked: nine of the ten trial patients with early cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's saw improvements in their memory after just three months of treatment.
Those patients with jobs pre-trial returned to work and had improved performance. Also, after over two years, all nine patients have retained these improvements.
Other serious illnesses, such as cancer, HIV and cardiovascular disease, are often targeted with this sort of combination approach. However, until this research, no one had targeted Alzheimer's this way. Now that the results are in, the way doctors treat the disease may change.
"That suggested that a broader-based therapeutics approach, rather than a single drug that aims at a single target, may be feasible and potentially more effective for the treatment of cognitive decline due to Alzheimer's," says Dale Bredesen, author of the study.
Alzheimer's disease starts as a problem with signals in the brain that don't make the right nerve connections that create memories. This results in a loss of memory. However, it's affected by a variety of factors, and according to previous studies, everything from exercise to brain stimulation can influence it.
"The existing Alzheimer's drugs affect a single target, but Alzheimer's disease is more complex. Imagine having a roof with 36 holes in it, and your drug patched one hole very well— the drug may have worked, a single "hole" may have been fixed, but you still have 35 other leaks, and so the underlying process may not be affected much," says Bredesen.
One patient saw marked improvements by adjusting her diet and eliminating gluten, doing yoga regularly to decrease stress, taking melatonin to improve sleep, improving oral hygiene, reinstating hormone replacement therapy, and taking vitamins.
Of course, such an approach isn't easy and requires lifestyle changes. Also, Bredesen points out the need for further studies that corroborate his research.
Regardless, this is a remarkable step in fighting a disease that could affect up to 160 million people worldwide by the year 2050.