The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

LBD & Nutrition-4: Water-Soluble Vitamins

This week the blog is about something that at first blush doesn't have much to do with dementia of any kind. However, because LBD increases stress and impairs the immune system, these vitamins are useful and should be considered as a daily supplement.  Unlike the fat-soluble supplements discussed last week, these water-soluble vitamins are excreted in the urine. Excess water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the liver nor do they  build up to toxic levels when taken in amounts of more than the body can metabolize at the time. While food is still the best source of these nutrients, supplements can usually be taken safely in normal doses.

Vitamin B Complex (Folic acid, B6 and B12): These vitamins can be found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy sources.

  • Belief: These vitamins help to prevent or slow dementia.
  • Fact: True, but impractical. These water-soluble vitamins help in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the central nervous system, and appear to lower the levels of an amino acid associated with dementia. Studies have shown that large doses of these three vitamins together can decrease confusion, reduce depression and slow MCI.   Reference 
  • Concern: The large dosage required makes obtaining an adequate amount from food impractical. Therefore supplements must be used. In addition, injections provide better results than oral supplements, making this a difficult and possibly impractical effort for the average person.
  • Belief: These vitamins help to reduce stress, which in turn reduces dementia symptoms.
  • Fact: True. A daily oral dose of these water-soluble vitamins has been shown to significantly decrease workplace stress, confusion and depression.  It is reasonable to believe that it would also reduce stress in other areas of one’s life as well. Reference.  
  • Belief: Taking Vitamin B12 will prevent dementia.
  • Fact: False. It has been known for some time that a deficiency in Vitamin B12 decreases the brains ability to metabolize neurotransmitters and can cause dementia. However, taking Vitamin B12 alone as a preventive measure does not help.   Reference.

Vitamin C: This water soluble vitamin is found in most fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, chestnuts, soy beans and low fat yogurt.

  • Belief: Taking Vitamin C lowers your risk of dementia.
  • Fact: Not yet proven. This vitamin was associated with a lower risk of dementia in one small study. That study needs to be replicated, preferably with a larger number of subjects before it can be accepted as fact. Reference.
  • Belief: Vitamin C is helpful in reducing the infections that occur so often with LBD and which in turn, increase LBD symptoms.
  • Fact: True. It has long been known that Vitamin C is associated with the maintenance of a healthy immune system, and therefore is helpful in reducing infection.

While taking supplements of these vitamins is comparatively safe, anyone dealing with LBD should always remember that this disorder makes the whole digestion system sluggish and that drug sensitivities can occur at any time. Larger than normal doses are discouraged without a Lewy-savvy physician's supervision.

Friday, September 20, 2013

LBD & Nutrition-3: Antioxidants

Antioxidants are the body's scavengers, they combat free radicals—unstable molecules that can injure healthy cells and tissues. Lewy bodies are generated when healthy proteins are “misfolded” or damaged. It is possible that removing free radicals decreases that damage.

However, this possibly positive result does not come without dangers. Many antioxidants are fat-soluble vitamins which cannot be excreted in the urine. Taken in larger doses than the body can use, the excess is stored and can become toxic, causing liver damage or other problems.

Vitamin A: Found in most fruits and vegetables, some nuts, dairy products, and tuna.
  • Belief: Vitamin A prevents free radicals from turning healthy protein cells into Lewy bodies.
  • Fact:  Not yet proven. Vitamin A may be helpful with other disorders but there is still no scientific evidence that this vitamin is helpful in preventing dementia.
  • Concern: This vitamin is fat-soluble and therefore, dangerous in the large amount of supplements often recommended.
Beta carotene: A vitamin A precursor can be found in most fruits and vegetables, some nuts, dairy products and tuna.
  • Belief: As with Vitamin A, beta carotene combats dementia.
  • Fact: Not yet proven. One small study found beta carotene levels lower in people with dementia than in those without dementia. This same study also found that a higher intake of this nutrient by healthy people was associated with a lower risk of later dementia.   More research is needed before this belief can truly be supported.
  • Concern: Beta carotene is fat-soluble, and therefore can be toxic when taken as supplements in larger than recommended doses.
Vitamin D:  Small amounts can be found in fatty fish such as herring and tuna. It is also added to many dairy products and sold as supplements.
  • Belief: Vitamin D is called the Sunshine Vitamin because just a few minutes of sunshine per day will provide adults with all they need.
  • Fact: False. This is true for younger people. However as people age, their skins become less efficient, resulting in vitamin D deficiencies.
  • Belief: As an antioxidant, vitamin D decreases the risk of dementia.
  • Fact: True. Recent research supports this belief.  
  • Belief: Vitamin D helps to make strong bones and keep them strong, important for people that are accident-prone, as is the case for many with Lewy body disorders.
  • Fact: True. This vitamin promotes calcium absorption and works to keep bones strong.  It also helps to prevent osteoporosis, a common disorder with older women, which can also weaken bones and make them easier to break.
  • Concern: Since this vitamin is less easy to find in foods, doctors may recommend a vitamin D supplement. Be careful not to take more of this fat-soluble vitamin than the recommended dose.
Vitamin E: This antioxidant is found in wheat germ, nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts, vegetable oils such as sunflower and safflower oils, and some green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli.
  • Belief: Vitamin E decreases the risk of developing dementia.
  • Fact: Partially true. Since we reported on this vitamin in our 2010 book, this vitamin has been found to be helpful for long term prevention and may have a modest impact on the risk of developing dementia later in life.  
  • Concern: The above pertains to vitamin E found in food only. The amount of this fat-soluble vitamin needed be effective in supplement form is toxic and can cause liver damage.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This antioxidant can be found in organ meat (heart, liver), vegetable oils, fatty fish, and nuts. Broccoli, sweet potatoes and sweet peppers also contain moderate amounts of this nutrient.
  • Belief: CoQ10 can slow down dementia.
  • Fact: True, but impractical and possibly dangerous. There is some evidence that suggests this coenzyme may slow down but not cure Parkinson’s dementia.
  • Concern: The amount per day required for effective treatment is too large to get easily from food. Supplements are generally used but they are expensive.
  • Concern: A variety of diseases and drugs can interact negatively with CoQ10. For example, it decreases the effect of blood thinners. Also, it is fat-soluble. Be sure to talk to your doctor before adding this nutrient to your diet.
Next week: Water-soluble vitamins.

Vitamin A: Dietary antioxidants and dementia 
Vitamin D: Vitamin D, cognition, and dementia.
Vitamin E:  Dietary Antioxidants and Long-term Risk of Dementia.
CoQ10: CoQ10 and Dementia.

Friday, September 13, 2013

LBD & Nutrition-2: Supplements in General

A balanced Mediterranean diet supplies most of the nutrition a person needs. A daily vitamin and mineral supplement is usually enough for anything that was missed. Except for that, it is best to use supplements sparingly, if at all. Researches agree that it is best to get needed nutrients directly from the foods for these reasons:

  • Effectiveness. Nutrients in food are generally more effective in combating dementia than the same nutrients in supplement form.
  • Regulation. Unlike prescription drugs or even OTC drugs, supplements are poorly regulated. There are no laws governing content. You can never be really sure the label is accurate. 
  • Danger. Some supplements can be dangerous when taken in large amounts or taken with other drugs. For example, the amount of antioxidants thought to be useful against dementia is often larger than a normal diet would supply. However, supplements in  these large amounts can be toxic to the liver or other organs.
  • Expense. Some supplements are both expensive and dangerous to use without a doctor’s guidance. CoQ10 is an antioxidant with the problems noted above. It can also conflict with prescription drugs a person is already taking. And finally, it is quite expensive.

There are only a few safe drugs even moderately useful in combating dementia and these are prohibitively expensive. Perhaps that is why beliefs abound about the benefits of various nutrients thought to improve cognition. Some stem from anecdotal reports, or personal stories. Others are supported with scientific evidence from clinical trials. These are studies with groups of people, some receiving the treatment and some getting placebos. Anecdotal reports do not provide adequate proof of a theory even when there are many such reports. Clinical trials provide better proof but still need to be replicated before their results are fully accepted, unless the studies are large and well-run.

Issue to be discussed more fully in later this blog series on nutrition:

  • Antioxidants (anti-ox-i-dunts): These nutrients are thought to combat LBD by  destroying free radicals
  • Water-soluble vitamins are fairly safe. The down side is that none of them specifically combat dementia. However, they may help to combat other problems like infection and stress, both of which can make LBD much worse. 
  • Omega-3 fatty acids appear to boost the immune system and lower triglycerides or the “bad” fats. However, there’s a lot of confusions about which foods fit in this category. Other similar foods are Omega-6 fatty acids and are not so helpful. 
  • Coffee and tea may not be “supplements” but they have also been touted to be helpful with dementia.

Over the next four weeks this blog will all address each of the above subjects in much more detail. If you have comments or questions about any of these, be sure to speak up.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

LBD & Nutrition-1: The Mediterranean Diet

Dementia drugs are only moderately effective in combating dementia. Behavior management drugs are actually dangerous with LBD. So what do you do instead? How do you combat this insidious, always encroaching, always progressing disorder? Physical exercise can slow it down—more than drugs, experts say. Staying socially and mentally active helps too. For years, many have insisted that eating a healthy diet also made a difference.

Now, researchers have specifically identified a Mediterranean diet, low in carbohydrates and rich in vegetables, fish and “good” oils as helpful. You may even want to add a little wine. The antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber in these foods work together to protect against chronic disease, including dementia.

Foods in a Mediterranean diet include:

  • Most vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts beans and a little wine.
  • Limited starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes or peas. 
  • Proteins sources such as eggs, cheese, yogurt, fish, and a little poultry but very little red meat like beef.
  • Unsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil or canola oil instead of saturated fats like butter and bacon grease.
  • Limited simple carbohydrates such as bread or pasta and sugar. 

Choose foods that are:

Fresh, or quick frozen. These retain their nutritional value best. Quick frozen can actually be better than fresh because they are processed at the most optimum time.

Unprocessed. Processed food will often include substances that are less healthy such as white flour or corn syrup. Labels should show no more than two items besides the food itself. For instance, clam chowder can have two ingredients besides the clams, vegetables and milk.

Raw, steamed or grilled. Boiling removes nutrients and frying adds saturated fats. Baking can also work as long as the oils from the meat drain away from the food.

Eating the above foods prepared in the above manners decreases the risk of getting metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors for all chronic diseases: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels and abdominal fat. Most chronic diseases are risk factors for dementia.

This overview is only an introduction. For more information, find books about a Mediterranean diet and other related issues in the LBD Book Corner store.
There is more to a good diet than food. The following also help to keep dementia at bay:

Provide a relaxing atmosphere. The environment in which the food is eaten is important too. A pleasant, peaceful atmosphere helps to digest the food better. This becomes more important as Lewy advances. Avoid rushing, annoyance or distraction during mealtimes. Stress and distraction interfere with anyone’s ability to digest food. Add LBD’s more sluggish digestive system and its sensitivity to light, sound and feelings and these distractions can make eating very difficult if not actually dangerous.

Eat at the table as a family. Eventually, Lewy symptoms such as swallowing problems or a changed sense of taste, may make eating more of a chore than a pleasure. Therefore, do everything possible to foster a mood of relaxed enjoyment at meals. This includes making mealtime a family affair. Families who eat meals together tend to be more content.

Keep the focus on the food and the conversation. Soft relaxing music can help to set a calm atmosphere. Loud, intrusive or busy music or a television running in the background can be distracting, especially for the Lewy partner who already has attention deficits. Avoid arguments and even mild disagreements. Mild laughter is helpful but too much excitement is distracting.  Lewy can cause feelings of intense excitement to be interpreted as intense fear or anger or other negative feelings.

Nutrition. A balanced Mediterranean diet supplies most of the nutrition a person needs. A daily vitamin and mineral supplement is usually enough for anything that was missed. Except for that, it is best to use supplements sparingly, if at all. Instead, get the needed nutrients directly from the foods. First, nutrients in food are generally more effective in combating dementia than the same nutrients in supplement form. Secondly, unlike prescription drugs or even OTC drugs, supplements are poorly regulated. There are no laws governing content. You can never be really sure the label is accurate. Finally, certain supplements can be dangerous.

That said, the next few weeks will discuss some of the supplements thought to help with dementia. Let us know if there is a certain one you want to know about. We’ll do the research.

Zelman K. (2011) The Mediterranean Diet. WebMD. Edited August 16, 2011.