June 16, 2011

Parkinson's, Healthy Aging & Supplements: Goodbye, CoQ10. Hello, Resveratrol!

Millions of us take dietary supplements to ward off disease or slow the aging process. Those of us with chronic progressive diseases like Parkinson's are particularly susceptible to hyped remedies and cures. Unfortunately, scientific studies all too often dash the hopes for a touted supplement.

Here's a personal example: Preliminary studies suggested that large doses of coenzyme Q10 might help those of us with Parkinson's. So, I started taking 1200mg every day. Then last month, NIH stopped studying CoQ10 at the mid-point review because the data showed CoQ10 did not offer benefits greater than the placebo.

Ever hopeful (dupe-able?), I've now jettisoned CoQ10 and will try another supplement -- resveratrol -- based again on promising preliminary studies. At age 82, I'm not inclined to wait for the more definitive studies that could take years unless there are indications of harmful side effects from the supplement being tested. 

Here's some background on both the CoQ10 and resveratrol studies:

CoQ10 Fails the Parkinson's Test

CoQ10 is a natural substance essential to the functioning of the body's cells. Its levels decrease with age and are low in patients with chronic diseases like Parkinson's, muscular dystrophy, cancer, diabetes and HIV/AIDS. Given that list, it's no surprise that CoQ10 is one of the best-selling supplements.

One issue: CoQ10 seemed not to affect brain cells significantly. But a few years ago, preliminary studies with a small group of Parkinson's patients suggested that high doses of CoQ10 (1200mg a day) might slow the deterioration of brain cells associated with Parkinson's. The authors cautioned, however, that a larger, more definitive study was needed before they could recommend the use of CoQ10.

Many people with Parkinson's (including me) decided not to wait for those definitiive results. By George, we'd start taking large doses of CoQ10 right away!

Now, those results are in. The study broke participants into three groups: 1) those taking 1200mg of CoQ10 a day, 2) those taking 2400mg, and 3) those taking a placebo. Halfway thorugh the test, NIH ended the study because the results were identical for each group.

As some consolation for those taking the supplement, NIH reported that even the 2400mg dose was safe and well tolerated. The study's authors also said it was still possible that CoQ10 might prove effective if a new formulation were developed that was better able to enter the brain.  Such a study -- using a water-soluble form of CoQ10 -- is currently underway in Canada.

Resveratrol Still Offers Some Hope
Resveratrol is a plant chemical found in red grape skins and grape seeds, purple grape juice and red wine. It has received a good deal of attention recently as a powerful antioxidant. Recent NIH-sponsored studies have found that it may be particularly effective in combating oxidant stress, which is a factor in Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and strokes.

For a report on the latest study, see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3076208/.

Only a few studies of resveratrol have involved humans, and no long-term studies have been conducted. But many clinical trials are currently underway. At this stage, regarding our certainty about its true benefits, resveratrol is about where CoQ10 was a few years ago.

Since supplement manufacturers are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, different brands of a supplement can have wide variations in the amount of the ingredient actually found in the product. For this reason, when I'm considering buying a supplement, I check it out at: www.consumerlab.com/reviews.

With resveratrol, reviewers found that two of the ten brands tested did not actually contain the amount of resveratrol specified on the label. They also found a wide range in the cost for 100mg of the product with the highest priced brand costing 17 times the lowest. Caveat emptor!

You have to sign on as a paid subscriber to Consumer Lab to get the brand name results. I signed on and, based on their report, decided to order resveratrol from my favorite internet vitamin/supplement order site: http://www.puritan.com/
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