A dietary supplement containing 30 vitamins and minerals that can stop and even reverse massive loss of brain cells could be available in only two years. Researchers from Canada's McMaster University believe it could treat catastrophic diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
"The findings are dramatic," says Jennifer Lemon, research associate in the Department of Biology and a lead author of the study. "Our hope is that this supplement could offset some very serious illnesses and ultimately improve quality of life."
Scientists at McMaster created the unique formula in 2000 and have been conducting animal studies over the past 15 years. It has shown dramatic benefits in both normal mice and those specifically bred for such research because they age rapidly and undergo dramatic declines in cognitive and motor function in a matter of months.
The formula contains common natural ingredients such as vitamins B, C and D, folic acid, green tea extract, cod liver oil and other nutraceuticals. All are commonly available over-the-counter in health food stores.
The mice used in the latest study had lost more than half of their brain cells and had the human equivalent of severe Alzheimer's disease.
The mice were fed the supplement on small pieces of bagel each day over the course of several months. The improvement was amazing. Over time, researchers found that it completely eliminated the severe brain cell loss and cognitive decline.
"The research suggests that there is tremendous potential with this supplement to help people who are suffering from some catastrophic neurological diseases," says Lemon.
"We know this because mice experience the same basic cell mechanisms that contribute to neurodegeneration that humans do. All species, in fact. There is a commonality among us all."
Researchers found that the supplements acted on the mitrochondria, the cells' power plants, causing them to produce fewer free radicals, which experts believe are the root of aging.
In addition to reversing brain loss, the researchers also found that the mice experienced improvement in vision and smell. Loss of smell is often associated with neurological disease. The mice also showed improved balance and motor activity.
Researchers plan to begin testing the supplement on humans, hopefully within the next two years.
The study is published online in the journal Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis.
Alzheimer's affects more than 5.1 million Americans over the age of 65, and more than 200,000 cases of Parkinson's diseases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Neither disease has a cure.
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