Back in March 2016, news outlets reported on a nutritional drink called Souvenaid that was claimed to ‘stop the brain from shrinking’ and ‘slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.’
At the time, the story was based on clinical trial results that were presented at the Advances in Alzheimer’s Therapy congress in Athens by a group of researchers who were part of a consortium known as ‘LipiDiDiet’.
On 31 October 2017, the researchers published their full results in the journal Lancet Neurology.
The results showed that the trial ultimately failed to meet its primary goal, which was to slow memory and thinking decline in people with mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease. However, they did see some benefits in other tests, including less brain shrinkage and better performance on some cognitive tests.
People who are worried about their memory should not rush out and buy this drink without first talking to their doctor to find out if it could be suitable for them.
What is the Souvenaid drink?
Souvenaid is a medical 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.
The drink is approved as a food for medical purposes for people in the earlier stages of the condition and is available at pharmacies or from the company Nutricia at £3.50 for a daily dose. As it is a medical drink, it should not be purchased without first consulting your doctor or memory clinic about whether it is right for you.
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 (also known as lumbar punctures) 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 the number of people who progressed from mild cognitive impairment to dementia during the study. There was also no difference in scores in a specific series of memory and thinking tests called the neuropsychological test battery (NTB).
However, when the researchers used more sensitive tests they found that the people who had taken the drink containing Fortasyn Connect had reduced decline of cognitive and functional performance over two years as judged by a clinician. 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.
What do these results mean?
From these results, we cannot say that the drink is able to prevent cognitive decline in those with 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 in people with mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease. This means the drink might be able to help people with this condition to manage some of the memory problems they commonly experience. This should be alongside other things known to help such as regular exercise, avoiding smoking and a healthy diet.
I’m worried about my memory – should I buy this drink?
Commenting on the study, Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
‘This medical drink been shown to slow the decline of thinking skills in people experiencing mild memory problems, who also have early signs of Alzheimer’s disease on a brain scan or a lumbar puncture test. This group of people don’t benefit from Alzheimer’s drugs, so this drink is one option to consider alongside regular exercise, avoiding smoking an eating a healthy, balanced diet to keep their memory sharp.’
‘This trial of Souvenaid did not meet the success criteria that would be needed for developing new drugs so we cannot be confident of the drink’s benefits. Although there was less cognitive decline in people taking the daily drink over two years, the same number of people still went on to develop dementia as those who had a fake drink every day. We certainly can’t conclude that the drink slows progression of Alzheimer’s disease.’
‘People who are worried about their memory should not rush out and buy this drink without first talking to their doctor to find out if it could be suitable for them. There are many causes of memory decline, including normal ageing, so it’s important people are investigated for underlying Alzheimer’s disease before taking this medical drink, or any kind of treatment.’