Lifestyle changes stabilize cognition in Alzheimer’s patients

New study finds intensive lifestyle changes, including supplements and regular exercise, may stabilize cognition in early-stage Alzheimer’s.

Yet again, diet and exercise is the key; the results of a clinical trial have shown that “intensive” lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and consistent exercise, may slow the decline in some early-stage Alzheimer’s disease patients.

The study, which was published in the journal Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, demonstrated that patients who implemented lifestyle changes, such as consuming whole foods, engaging in regular moderate exercise and performing stress management techniques, saw their dementia symptoms stabilize. In contrast, the control patients, who did not alter their habits, experienced continued worsening in thinking and memory [1].

Longevity.Technology: The global burden of Alzheimer’s disease is immense – and it is growing. Millions of individuals and their families are affected by its devastating impact, and as the population ages, the number of those suffering from Alzheimer’s is expected to rise dramatically, placing an ever-increasing strain on healthcare systems worldwide. The personal toll of this disease is profound, robbing individuals of their memories, cognitive functions and, ultimately, their independence.

Given the current lack of a cure, the need to move the needle as early as possible in the disease’s progression is paramount; early intervention is crucial as it offers the best chance to slow cognitive decline and improve quality of life. While short in duration, this new study highlights how patients can take therapeutic action into their own hands, and the promise of such self-directed therapies is particularly encouraging – these proactive changes may not only slow the progression of the disease but also enhance healthspan and longevity. While it is still early days for effective pharmaceutical interventions , the potential of lifestyle modifications to offer tangible benefits cannot be overlooked, and these recent findings spotlight the importance of comprehensive care approaches that integrate both medical and lifestyle strategies, as well as a pragmatic path forward focusing on what we can control – diet, exercise and stress management.

The randomized, controlled clinical trial, conducted by scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Harvard Medical School and Duke University, enrolled 51 patients aged between 45 and 90. These patients were randomly assigned to either a treatment group or a control group, with the former group undergoing a 20-week multimodal lifestyle intervention that included dietary changes, exercise, stress management and supplementation.

A holistic approach

Patients in the treatment group consumed a vegan diet rich in complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds , and which was was low in processed sugars and fat. Calorie intake was unrestricted and the diet was supplemented by a regimen that included included omega-3, curcumin, a multivitamin, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, vitamin B12, magnesium, probiotics and lion’s mane mushroom.

The exercise regimen (30 minutes, three times a week) included both aerobic exercise and strength training. Stress management techniques included meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and stretching, with hour-long sessions taking place daily.

Promising results

While the use of multiple interventions simultaneously makes it challenging to isolate the effect of each component, the researchers point out that the presentation of Alzheimer’s suggests “that multidomain lifestyle interventions may be more effective than single-domain ones for reducing the risk of dementia, and that more intensive multimodal lifestyle interventions may be more efficacious than moderate ones at preventing dementia [1].”

The study, which was led by Dr Dean Ornish, revealed significant correlations between the extent of lifestyle change and improvements in three out of four measures of cognition and function. Notably, the amyloid-β peptides ratio, “one of the most clinically relevant biomarkers” in Alzheimer’s, responded significantly to the intervention, increasing by 6.4% in the intervention group but declining by 8.3% in the control group. Additionally, other biomarkers, such as the microbiome and harmful LDL cholesterol levels, demonstrated substantial improvement.

Among the 24 patients in the intervention group, 10 demonstrated improvement in cognitive tests, seven experienced no change and seven saw their symptoms worsen. In contrast, none of the control group patients improved; eight remained unchanged and 17 experienced a decline [1].

This clinical trial offers compelling evidence that lifestyle interventions can impact on cognition in dementia patients. As the paper authors conclude: “More moderate multimodal lifestyle changes may slow the rate of worsening of cognition and function in MCI or early dementia due to early-stage AD, whereas more intensive multimodal lifestyle changes may result in overall average improvements in many measures of cognition and function [1].”

[1] https://alzres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13195-024-01482-z