Supplements offer ‘significant’ gains for Alzheimer sufferers

Study findings on disease ‘not a silver bullet, but this is really important’, conference told

The first trial of its kind on the impact of nutritional supplements on people with Alzheimer’s disease has shown significant improvements in patient mood, ability to function and memory, a conference has heard.

Prof John Nolan of the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI) at Waterford Institute of Technology said the findings are “significant” for treatment of the condition. Prof Nolan co-led the two-year study mainly in the southeast of Ireland.

“This is not a silver bullet, but this is really important,” he told The Irish Times.

“We are spending billions of euro on medicines that don’t work in Alzheimer’s disease. We have to use this information now. It is not going to fix this disease but can it help with the symptoms of the disease.”


Eighty patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were recruited three years ago for the first ever placebo-controlled study into the impact of nutritional supplements.

The patients were predominantly from in and around Waterford, all were aged 65 years or over and had mild or moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Of the group, 27 were put on a placebo, while 53 – known as the active group – were given daily supplements of carotenoids, or plant-based pigments, mixed with vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil.

All the nutrients have been shown to be depleted in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Prof Nolan said the study found a “massive improvement” in the active nutrients, when measured in the blood and skin of patients in the active group.

“Also, importantly for the patients, we measured functional improvement in relation to quality of life,” he said.

“Basically their mood, their ability to function, their memory – these were the types of improvements we were able to pick up – were significantly better in the active group, compared to the placebo. It was a really good outcome for the experiment.”

Safe nutrients

He said the findings are “absolutely significant” for science and Government to support doctors, carers and patients to get access to these nutrients.

“The whole point of this intervention is the earlier the better. But the fact we can show an improvement even in people with Alzheimer’s disease has to be taken very seriously in the context that this disease has no real successful treatment,” added Prof Nolan.

“These are safe nutrients which have been tested. They are available in plants typically, so they are nature’s way of providing protection throughout our life, but what happens is when we get older we don’t have enough. These are exceptionally important findings.”

Findings of the study – led by Prof Nolan and Dr Rebecca Power of the NRCI and Prof Ríona Mulcahy, consultant physician at University Hospital Waterford – were presented at the 2021 International Brain and Ocular Nutrition Conference.

They have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Prof Mulcahy said the results add to a body of evidence that targets nutrition and can have a positive impact on symptoms and quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We believe that these results warrant large scale multicentre trials in order to continue this essential research and that this goal should be supported by research funding bodies, philanthropy and Government,” she added.