The daily brew is called Souvenaid, and it combines DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), choline (found in eggs, meat, nuts), and uridine (a basic component of RNA found in organ meats, broccoli, tomatoes, and other foods). Developed by MIT professor emeritus Richard Wurtman over a decade ago, Souvenaid has been the focus of two randomised, controlled, double-blind clinical trials in Europe. Wurtman suggests the liquid mix stimulates the growth of new synapses, improving cognitive function.
The second, latest “Souvenir 2” study involved 259 European subjects with mild AD. Some drank Souvenaid every day for six months; the rest drank a placeco beverage. Interestingly, verbal memory performance improved in both groups during the first three months, underscoring again the great power of the placebo effect. But during the second half of the study period, verbal memory began to deteriorate in the placebo group, while Souvenaid drinkers continued to show memory improvements.
EEGs Show Promising Changes
In addition to the memory tests, researchers used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure participants’ brain activity. The group on the Souvenaid regimen began to exhibit brain patterns that appeared more normal, and less like typical dementia models. Those EEG patterns reflect synaptic activity.
Wurtman said earlier studies showed the drink had no effect on patients with more advanced AD, presumably because their neural frameworks were already too compromised to produce any significant regeneration.
Almost all 259 participants stayed with the half-year program until it ended, and researchers reported no serious side effects.
Typically, more studies are necessary, and Wurtman indicated that a longer trial is underway that might better indicate whether Souvenaid can slow the course of the disease. "Existing data now suggests that it may be possible to receive something that will sustain cognition in people with Alzheimer's disease with a limited concern about side effects," he said. Still, he acknowledges, “I don't think it has any effect on the fundamental diseases process, but we'll see."
The Standard Cautions Apply
Since Wurtman invented Souvenaid -- and since his university holds the patent -- he has some vested interest in the product’s success, and his comments must be viewed in that light.
It’s also important to note that these clinical trials were funded by Nutricia, a division of Dannon, which holds the exclusive license on Souvenaid’s patent, and will control its eventual marketing. According to Nutricia spokeman William Green, there are no marketing plans yet in place, and cost hasn’t been set. "Souvenaid is a test product in development, which is still undergoing clinical trials," he said. "No plans for the introduction of Souvenaid to the market -- either in Europe or the U.S. -- have been confirmed. It is probable that any introduction would take place first in Europe."
Alzheimer's Association Weighs In
William Thies, vice president for medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer's Association, recommends caution. "There isn't a clear diet that prevents you from getting Alzheimer's disease or improves your memory," he said.
Thies added that Souvenaid – as a “medical food” – will not be subject to the normal FDA scrutiny for medications, and will most likely not be covered by insurance. He urged prudence:
You are making a judgment without the protections you have when dealing with a medication. You're going to be making a decision using your own funds and we would advise anybody to make sure they understand what the product offers and make sure they understand what it's going to cost.