Alzheimer's Alert: Unproven Treatments

The recent, but controversial success of a new drug to treat early onset Alzheimer’s has also triggered a flood of bogus treatments that could be downright dangerous.

Ads for herbs, supplements and natural “medical foods” are all over the internet, where unregulated products sold by unscrupulous companies target vulnerable seniors and families chasing a “cure” that doesn’t yet exist. How do you separate fact from fiction? Start with this: right now, there simply aren’t any FDA-approved medications that can cure Alzheimer’s period.

The most common, dubious products are made with caprylic acid, a fancy term for coconut oil. Maybe you’ve read or heard about coenzyme Q10. It can be toxic in large amounts. Both the FDA and the FTC targeted the makers of coral calcium, because it has no extra health benefits. It’s hard to walk down the aisle in a drug store without seeing gingko biloba. Though this Chinese extract is touted for its anti-inflammatory properties, 5 stringent medical studies don’t support that claim and doctors warn that gingko can have toxic interactions with other drugs. Same for another Chinese extract, huperzine A, which can be very dangerous if taken in tandem with FDA-appproved drugs for Alzheimer’s. Finally, experts say to steer clear of phosphatidylserine and tramiprosate. The later, found in seaweed, is sold as a “medical food.” However, there’s no solid evidence its helps treat Alzheimer’s.

As always, ask your doctor before you try any “miracle” cures. Savvy marketers know how to work the regulations. They can display a “qualified health claim” that states a product “may reduce the risk of dementia.” That doesn’t mean the product works or is approved by the FDA.

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