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Antioxidant May Help
Alzheimer's Disease Patients

ATLANTA (Reuters Health) - Patients with Alzheimer's disease may benefit by taking an antioxidant called N-acetylcysteine (NAC), according to results of a small preliminary study.

Although the causes of Alzheimer's disease are not fully understood, free radicals--harmful oxygen molecules that are a normal byproduct of metabolism--are thought to make the plaques and tangles in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients worse.

In the study, Dr. John C. Adair of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and colleagues hypothesized that the antioxidant NAC could counteract that damage and improve patients' function.

Adair's team administered NAC to 23 patients with Alzheimer's disease and compared them with 20 similar Alzheimer's patients who took an inactive placebo.

After 6 months, patients taking NAC did not fare much better in performing their day-to-day activities than patients taking a placebo. But the NAC patients did outperform placebo patients on certain tests that measured their reasoning skills.

According to the researchers, the treatment was well tolerated by the patients, but after 3 months headache tended to be more common among patients receiving NAC.

Writing in the October issue of Neurology, the authors note that ``the results provide optimism for use of this particular drug and the general therapeutic strategy of reducing oxidant stress in Alzheimer's disease.''

``In some very modest ways, there seemed to be improvement on certain tasks,'' Adair told Reuters Health. But he said it would be ``rank speculation'' to guess exactly how NAC changed the patients' abilities.

``Free radicals are probably responsible for at least some of the tissue injury in Alzheimer's disease,'' Adair said. ''Next, we want to do a study comparing the antioxidant vitamin E to NAC,'' he added.

He also pointed out that presently approved prescription medications for Alzheimer's disease likely do nothing to slow or stop nerve cell degeneration. ``With any luck, future treatments will do a better job of protecting the brain,'' he said.

SOURCE: Neurology 2001;57:1515-1517.

Reference Source 89


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