A drink containing fish oils available over the counter could delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.
It improved the memories of patients in the early stages of the neurological disorder by reducing damage to their brains.
Scientists say Fortasyn Connect – also known as Souvenaid – may combat dementia before it’s too late.
It has omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish like salmon and mackeral along with high doses of Vitamin B13, B, C and E. It has been available in the UK since 2013.
In the study 311 participants were selected at random to either receive the drink for two years or a placebo with the same amount of calories but none of the nutrients.
Those given a daily 125 ml Fortasyn Connect drink had almost half as few mundane problems with handling household emergencies, financial transactions or forgetting a major event.
They did 45 per cent better in a test that measures performance on everyday chores called the Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Box (CDR-SB).
This measure is especially important because it tracks the patient’s disease progression.
Furthermore there was less brain shrinkage or ‘atrophy’ – with 26 per cent difference for the hippocampus which controls memory and 16 per cent for the ventricular volume.
The study, published in The Lancet Neurology, is part of the large European Union funded LipiDiDiet project and was carried out in Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.
It involved patients with prodromal Alzheimer’s – often referred to as Mild Cognitive Impairment or MCI) which often develops into dementia.
Study leader Professor Hilkka Soininen, a neurologist at Eastern Finland University, said: “Today’s results are extremely valuable as they bring us closer to understanding the impact of nutritional interventions on prodromal Alzheimer’s, which we are now better at diagnosing but unable to treat due to a lack of approved pharmaceutical options.
“The LipiDiDiet study illustrates that this nutritional intervention can help to conserve brain tissue and also memory and patients’ ability to perform everyday tasks – possibly the most troubling aspects of the disease.”
The trial is now the third to show Fortasyn Connect boosts memory performance. The two others involved patients with mild dementia.
Co-ordinator Prof Tobias Hartmann, of Saarland University in Germany, said: “While this nutritional intervention is not a cure for Alzheimer’s, it effectively shows the earlier in the disease process we intervene, the greater the advantage for the patient.
“Importantly, reduced atrophy in the patient’s brain shows the benefit extends beyond symptomatic effects, something never before achieved.”
However decline was less than that anticipated when the study was designed a decade ago.
The researchers said the drink does not benefit broad cognitive function to the degree hoped but it can help conserve brain tissue and memory in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Prof Hartmann said: “We have known for a while diet can reduce the risk of developing dementia.
“Indeed, certain nutrients have been found to have a neuroprotective effect on the brain.
“However translating this into an effective intervention hasn’t been easy because single nutrients simply aren’t powerful enough to fight a disease like Alzheimer’s alone.
“Today’s clinical trial results have shown the key is combining certain nutrients, in order to increase their effect.
“This is exciting because it shows that in the absence of effective drug options, we really have found something that can help slow down some of the most distressing symptoms in prodromal AD; especially in those who started the intervention early.
“Indeed those patients who have lost the least cognitive function, have the most to gain.”
Worldwide 47 million people have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia for which there is currently no cure.
The first signs of cognitive decline appear several years before the onset of dementia. Many patients with the early symptoms of the disease can now be diagnosed in advance of dementia fully manifesting.
The number of people living with dementia is expected to double every 20 years, reaching 74.7 million in 2030 and 131.5 million by 2050.