Avoiding Dr. Alzheimer

Avoiding Dr. Alzheimer

Alzheimer ’s disease – the dreaded AD. A scary thought for those of us getting older – and guess what – that’s all of us! Purported ways to avoid it or ameliorate its effects are plentiful. Just watch the commercials for learning exercises and brain booster nutrients (so called). But, unfortunately, there’s little data to back up any real impact of these well touted interventions. One area that has come to the fore recently is the role of “Lifestyle”. You know the drill: Avoiding excess alcohol and stress, eat nutritious foods, and get regular exercise. You’ve heard it all before no doubt, as general principles of keeping fit.

Well it turns out that the role of lifestyle in AD is real and significant. A recent study showed that people who optimized the four aforementioned lifestyle factors cut their chance of getting the disease by 50%. Let’s consider that number again… the incidence of AD was ½ in people who followed healthy lifestyles compare to people who did not. And mind you, that reduction holds up for people with all kinds of genetic backgrounds.

Just as an aside, the role of genetics in AD is complicated. In the case of early onset AD, which is relatively rare, any one of a handful of genes do render a person at much greater risk than the general population. But for the much more common sporadic version of AD, which effects older adults, genes play a relatively small role in disease onset.

OK, back to our topic.. Now you might wonder why this simple “Lifestyle prescription” might have such a profound impact on brain function. While no one knows, really, the most likely scenario is that a healthy lifestyle supports a healthy blood vessel system. The capillaries that feed the brain are the same ones that feed the heart, the muscles, the liver, the kidney, etcetera. A famous physician, Sir William Osler, said many years ago “Longevity Is vascular question“, and I would say that this includes functional brain longevity. Modern science is backing up his proposition more each day.

We can’t eliminate the possibility of getting this devastating disease, but we can reduce it. So let’s find a quiet place and time to relax at the end of the day, get a good night’s rest, pass up that second (or third) glass of wine, substitute a cup of yogurt for the donut, and let the dog take us for a walk instead of watching yet another TV rerun. Compared to the intricacies of our brain, with over 100 billion nerve cells, even a marvelous structure like the sun is a trivial contrivance. The brain that each of us carries in our head is arguably the crowning achievement in God’s creation. Let’s do what we can to take care of it!

Brain Booster Blues: Prevagin®

Brain Booster Blues: Prevagin®

OK – so let’s say you wanted to test new product that is supposed to improve the chances of having a girl for women who get pregnant. You give the product to 20 couples and find, 5 years later, that the number of boy and girl babies is the same.  Looks like the product didn’t work, right? But then you go back and find there was one family that had 5 babies and all 5 were girls.  You use the results from that couple to market your product as effective.  Is this ligit?   The answer is obviously no.  This data point is a statistical fluke.  You’re bound to find such a result if you look at enough couples, we see it every day among the people we know.   Well, according to a lawsuit filed by the FTC, that’s pretty much what the good people at Quincy found when they ran a study to evaluate the effectiveness of their “brain” product, Prevagin®.   Overall measures of memory improvement showed no significant effect. So they went back and looked at individual tests that composed the overall assessment and managed to find one where there was a significant effect.   Of course when I say significant, I am referring to statistically significant.  I don’t want to get into the details of significance testing, but suffice it to say that, when you do an interventional study and don’t find any effect of the forest, you can’t go picking through the individual trees.  In other words, Quincy was, in my opinion, cheating.  In the world of science we call this “data mining”. 

Unfortunately, when the FTC took Quincy to court to argue that Prevagin® commercials are misleading, the court dismissed the case.  It seems the court was not interested in considering the issue at this level of scientific scrutiny. And that’s ashamed.   There’s an old saying in scientific circles, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”.  A product that truly improves memory or decreases the loss of memory with age would surely be considered extraordinary.  Clearly Quincy’s results, in my opinion, fall short.

Another way to look at the product is to ask the question, based on what is known about physics and chemistry, is it even feasible that Prevagin® could work.  The so called active ingredient Quincy claims is present in Prevagin® is an “aquaporin”, a substance derived from jelly fish.  As it runs out aquaporins are a class of proteins.  Proteins, like the components of meat, are broken down (digested) in the stomach and intestine. They enter the bloodstream as the building blocks of proteins, amino acids.  Furthermore, proteins in the bloodstream do not have an effect on the brain because the brain is protected by a barrier which prevents them from entering.  

Bottom line, in my opinion, Prevagin® could not and does not work!  And while consumer groups continue to file lawsuits to end the seemingly deceptive practices of Quincy, the company continues to rake in the bucks.  Worse, they continue to influence unsuspecting and desperate people, many who are suffering from memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease, with a false hope. 

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done to improve memory and brain power.  Perhaps the best way – although with admittedly only modest impact – is to eat healthy, get adequate rest, and exercise.  People of faith, for some reason, seem to be particularly at risk for advertisements for questionable products like Prevagin®.  Perhaps it’s because of a trusting nature or a belief that everything that’s “natural” is beneficial.  Think about tobacco or strychnine, or arsenic – all natural!  And remember that the Bible tells us to be wise as serpents and to watch for wolves in sheep’s clothing.  It tells us to test everything and hold on to the good.  I hope that Christians, will be wary about the ads for Prevagin® and all such product that claim to offer benefits but, in my opinion,  just don’t pass the basic truth test. 

Note: The text “in my opinion” is intended to make it clear to anyone with a fiduciary interest in the product that the statement represents the authors considered opinion and is not presented as an established fact.