Memory Research: New Study Finds Drugs, Herbal Supplements Do Not Prevent Cognitive Decline

Bad news for adults hoping to prevent mild cognitive decline: a recent review of published research has found that drugs, herbal products or vitamin supplements do not help block the condition.

The review, conducted by St. Michael’s hospital, studied randomized clinical trials involving about 25,000 patients. Researchers found no strong evidence that “pharmacologic treatments such as cholinesterase inhibitors … herbal supplements such as gingko … or vitamins and fatty acids such as vitamin B6 or omega-3 fatty acids,” improved cognitive functions in healthy adults, according to a press release. This contests previous ideas that some supplements may help improve memory and prevent cognitive decline.

While researchers also found that mental exercises, such as a computerized training programs, could help prevent the condition, they found little evidence that exercise helped. The idea that exercise has no impact on memory also refutes prior studies.

According to the press release, “The strongest evidence was for the value of mental exercises such as computerized training programs or intensive one-on-one personal cognitive training in memory, reasoning, or speed of processing.”

In the most extreme example, researchers found that estrogen could increase cognitive decline.

Mild cognitive decline is defined as “an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia,” according to the Mayo Clinic. It affects “10 to 25 per cent of people over age 70,” said the study's press release.

Dr. Raza Naqvi, a resident at the University of Toronto and the study’s author, said experts do not know which mental exercises would be most helpful for the average patient.

“We encourage researchers to consider easily accessible tools such as crossword puzzles and sudoko that have not been rigorously studied,” said Naqvi in the press release. “The studies in this review that assessed cognitive exercises used exercises that were both labour- and resource-intensive, and thus may not be applicable to most of our patients.”



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