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Coffee, fish oil may combat Alzheimer's

Blood pressure drugs also offer hope in studies

Email|Print| Text size + By Rob Waters
Bloomberg News / November 8, 2007

WASHINGTON - Blood pressure drugs, caffeine, and fish oil all may help treat, prevent, or delay Alzheimer's disease, researchers found in separate studies.

The drugs, made by GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Roche Holding AG but also available in generic form, appear to block the formation of sticky wads of protein called amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Caffeine and fish oil were found to reduce the plaques in animals, scientists said at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

Drugs that lower blood pressure have been tested as possible treatments for Alzheimer's before with conflicting results. To settle the question, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York screened 55 blood pressure drugs.

The scientists, led by Giulio Pasinetti, extracted amyloid proteins from mice that are genetically engineered to have a form of Alzheimer's and mixed the proteins with the drugs. Seven of the medications caused a reduction of the amyloid proteins in the test tube, and three of those, given to living mice with Alzheimer's, cut the number of plaques in their brains.

The three medications include Coreg, now sold in generic form as carvedilol, and the Roche drugs, sold generically as propranolol and nicardipine. These medicines cut the plaque when used in doses far lower than those prescribed to reduce blood pressure. That may mean they won't cause unwanted lowering of blood pressure, Pasinetti said at the conference.

Fish oil and its key ingredient, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, are a mainstay of alternative health practitioners and have been endorsed by the American Heart Association to cut the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The oil also shows promise for preventing Alzheimer's, said Gregory Cole, a neurologist and associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. Data from the 50-year, government-run Framingham Heart Study show that "people with higher levels of fish oil had half the levels of Alzheimer's," Cole said.

And then there's caffeine. Gary Arendash, a researcher at Byrd Alzheimer's Institute in Tampa said giving Alzheimer's mice the human equivalent of five cups of coffee, or 500 grams of caffeine, a day also has plaque-busting effects and reverses symptoms of impaired memory in aging Alzheimer's mice.

At the conference, he presented data that show caffeine can reduce levels of two enzymes that play a role in the complex process of amyloid plaque formation.

"I don't know of any drug under development that can address and suppress both of these enzymes," Arendash said.

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