On 10th March 2016, news outlets reported on a nutritional drink that is claimed to “stop the brain from shrinking” and “slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease“. We examine the science behind these headlines.
The story is based on clinical trial results that were presented at the Advances in Alzheimer’s Therapy congress in Athens. This research team provided evidence that this drink may help to improve some aspects of memory in people who have mild cognitive impairment due to the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is recommended that you speak to your GP before starting to take this drink or any other nutritional supplements or medication.
What is the drink?
Souvenaid is a nutritional drink containing an active ingredient called Fortasyn Connect. This is a combination of fatty acids, vitamins and other nutrients. It was developed with the aim of preventing the loss of important connections between brain cells that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst this effect on brain cells has been shown in animal studies, it has not yet been confirmed that the drink has the same effect in people.
Previous trials of the drink were not able to show any effect on its ability to slow or prevent cognitive decline but there was evidence that it may improve some kinds of memory in people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, it is approved as a food for medical purposes for people in the earlier stages of the condition and is available over the counter at £3.50 for a daily dose.
What was this trial and what were the results?
The study involved 311 people who had mild cognitive impairment, which is a condition where someone has mild memory problems that are not severe enough for them to be diagnosed with dementia. The study participants had also had tests like brain scans or spinal taps to show that their memory problems were most likely due to the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Half of the people on the trial took the drink containing Fortasyn Connect once a day for two years; the other half took a drink with the same calorie content but without the active ingredient. When the researchers analysed the results at the end of the trial, there was no difference in overall cognitive performance between the two groups.
However, when the researchers used more sensitive tests they found that the people who had taken the drink containing Fortasyn Connect had improvements in their episodic memory (memories of specific events and the time and place that they happened). Brain scans from the trial also showed that the people who took Souvenaid had less shrinkage in certain areas of their brain, including in the hippocampus, which is involved in memory.
There was no evidence presented that those who took Souvenaid were less likely to experience cognitive decline or to progress to full Alzheimer’s disease. The research team are still analysing this data from the LipiDiDiet trial.
What do these results mean?
These trial results have not yet been published which means they have not yet been rigorously scrutinised by the scientific community. We need to wait for the trial results to be published to be able to get a detailed understanding of what they mean for people with early Alzheimer’s disease.
Based on the results presented at the conference, we cannot say that the drink is able to prevent cognitive decline in those mild cognitive impairment due to the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The drink has no overall effect on cognition when it is taken for two years.
There is evidence that it can bring improvements in some aspects of memory after two years. This means it might be able to help people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease to manage some of the memory problems they commonly experience.
I’m worried about my memory – should I buy this drink?
If you are worried about your memory, or have a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, you should see your GP to discuss the options that are suitable for you.
This trial only looked at people with mild cognitive impairment due to the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but there are many other causes of mild cognitive impairment. There is no evidence that this drink would improve memory in everyone who has this condition so it is best to consult with your GP before beginning any nutritional supplement.
There is evidence that regular physical activity, avoiding smoking, eating a healthy, balanced diet and keeping your blood pressure in check are all ways to reduce your risk of developing dementia. This nutritional drink might improve memory in some people with mild memory problems but there is currently no evidence that it will slow cognitive decline or prevent dementia.