The SkepDoc: Hope and Hype for Alzheimer's

By Hall, Harriet | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Winter 2018 | Go to article overview

The SkepDoc: Hope and Hype for Alzheimer's


Hall, Harriet, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


ALZHEIMER'S SUCKS! IT IS A RELENTLESS, devastating, cruel disease that destroys patients' memory and personality, making them no longer the person they used to be. It leaves its victims dependent on caretakers and eventually kills them an average of 4 to 8 years after diagnosis. Ten percent of the population over the age of 65 has it; the incidence is 3% at age 65 and rises to 32% at age 85. As our population ages, millions more will be afflicted, with resultant social and financial costs for society. Already today, 15 million Americans are unpaid caretakers for patients with some form of dementia.

Alzheimer's can be definitively diagnosed only after death, at autopsy. A substantial percentage of those clinically diagnosed with Alzheimer's actually have other causes of dementia. As yet, there is no reliable way to make an early diagnosis, and no way to change the course of the disease once it has been diagnosed. Today researchers are developing biomarkers (spinal fluid proteins) and brain imaging methods that improve diagnostic accuracy and may eventually permit early diagnosis before the onset of symptoms. Six drugs have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer's, but the drugs alleviate only some of the symptoms. (1) No drug slows or stops the progression of the disease. And there is nothing that can reverse the damage.

"Awakening from Alzheimer's"

While this is all very discouraging, scientists are diligently working to understand the disease and find an effective treatment. Others apparently think they needn't bother. A journalist and singer/songwriter named Peggy Sarlin interviewed "cutting edge doctors" who are allegedly already successful at treating Alzheimer's, sometimes with dramatic results. She wrote a book and produced an online video series, titled "Awakening from Alzheimer's," claiming that Alzheimer's is for the most part preventable and it can be reversed in 9 out of 10 patients. Wowzers! Wouldn't it be wonderful if that were true? Sorry, but I'm skeptical. I never rely on videos for my scientific information; they tend to be sensational, one-sided, and agenda-driven. But I gave Sarlin the benefit of the doubt and suffered through her whole series of 14 videos. I was not impressed. In each video, Sarlin interviewed a doctor at length; each had a different approach.

Dr. Mary Newport recommends coconut oil and its extract medium-chain-triglyceride (MCT) oil, describing how it miraculously reversed her husband's symptoms (a "light switch went on in his brain after the very first dose"). She claims to have 400 testimonials from others who tried it, but no controlled scientific studies. Snopes calls her claims "unproven." On Science-Based Medicine, Steven Novella concluded that the health claims for coconut oil are all unsupported by scientific studies and make little scientific sense. (2) The American Heart Association has warned against coconut oil because the evidence shows it increases the risk of heart disease. (3)

Dr. Joy Faber claims that pre-Alzheimer's can be diagnosed by imaging that shows decreased blood flow in the brain. She recommends the supplements vinpocetine, acetylcholine, magnesium, and taurine to target specific brain regions. Faber claims 75% of patients who take these are better in six months, but there are no published studies to back up her claim. She also recommends gingko, COQ10, vitamin E, and GABA. She recommends that everyone take multivitamins, fish oil, vitamin D and a mixture of 7 supplements to ward off dementia. Among her many unsubstantiated claims, Faber says statin drugs cause memory loss (actually, there is some evidence that statins may help prevent dementia) and recommends people use red yeast rice instead. (News flash! Red yeast rice contains the same statin that is in the prescription drug Lovastatin!)

Dr. Pamela Smith recommends healing an inflamed brain with anti-inflammatory supplements such as curcumin and krill oil. …

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