The potential, do-it-yourself treatment for Alzheimer's you can get at your local pharmacy

by Jonathan V. Wright, M.D.

Until very recently, the best strategy for Alzheimer's disease "treatment" has been prevention (and we covered the best prevention strategies in the October 2008 issue of Nutrition & Healing). Of course, you might remember a few years ago when reports of an "effective" treatment for Alzheimer's symptoms made the news. Researchers reported that injections of a patent medication called Enbrel® resulted in a significant return of memory in Alzheimer's patients.1 In fact, one patient even had a noticeable improvement within minutes after a single injection.2 Unfortunately, Enbrel shots aren't a do-it-yourself treatment: They must be injected directly into the spinal canal-a procedure that can only be done by a specialist in neurology or neurosurgery. And it's just as dangerous as it sounds-not to mention expensive. The cost of the patent medicine alone would be between $9,918.94 and $19,837.87 per year. However, as my colleague Robert Rowen, M.D., put it, even though Enbrel is a dangerous patent medication, Alzheimer's is an indescribable tragedy, and with no other effective treatment, the risk and expense may be worth it.

But what if there were a safe, inexpensive, and effective alternative? According to some very recent research, the best treatment for Alzheimer's may be a simple vitamin you can take right at home.

According to the abstract from the recent study: "We evaluated the efficacy of nicotinamide...in... mice, and found that it restored cognitive deficits associated with [Alzheimer's disease]."3 After describing the biochemical and structural improvements they observed in the mouse brain cells, the researchers concluded: "These preclinical findings suggest that oral nicotinamide may represent a safe treatment for Alzheimer's disease..."

"Nicotinamide" is another name for what is more commonly referred to in this country as "niacinamide." Both are types of vitamin B3.

While the niacinamide didn't have any effect on the most common marker of Alzheimer's, beta-amyloid, it did cause a 60 percent decrease in another marker, called "tau protein" (one specifically referred to as "Thr231-phospho-tau").

Niacinamide was also associated with an increase in "microtubules," which carry information inside brain cells. "Microtubules are like highways inside cells. What we're doing with [niacinamide] is making a wider, more stable highway," one of the researchers said. "In Alzheimer's disease, this highway breaks down. We are preventing that from happening."

So it's easy to understand why the researchers have been so enthusiastic about their findings. But the effects appear to go way beyond prevention.

So effective even the mainstream researchers are calling it a "cure"

In one interview,4 they remarked that niacinamide brought the mice "back to the level they'd be at if they didn't have the pathology. It actually improved behavior in non-demented animals too."

One of the co-authors continued, "this suggests that not only is it good for Alzheimer's disease, but if normal people take it, some aspects of their memory might improve."

And in an uncharacteristic move for mainstream researchers, one of the co-authors even went so far as to say "cognitively, [the mice] were cured. They performed as if they'd never developed the disease."

Of course, the research team couldn't completely abandon their mainstream roots, so they were sure to offer the typical obligatory warning: "Until we've done the proper clinical trials, I wouldn't advocate people rush out and eat grams of this stuff each day."

And just to make sure that message came through loud and clear, the Vice Chair of the Alzheimer's Association Medical & Scientific Advisory Council also commented that the new study is "intriguing," but people should be cautious and not assume that "more is better" when it comes to possible treatments, even ones that appear to be safe.

It's certainly true that more isn't always better. But let me tell you why you don’t have to wait around for more research before you reap the benefits of this vitamin breakthrough.

60 years of safety

Although there hasn't been any human research yet, the results of the animal research are so strong that it gives hope that Alzheimer's may be treatable in humans by the same means. Plus, niacinamide has been used extensively for many purposes for over 60 years, and its safety is well-known. In fact, two of the "basic books" about niacinamide therapy were written in the 1940s by William Kaufman, Ph.D, M.D., a psychiatrist and exceptionally thorough clinical researcher.

In 1943, Dr. Kaufman wrote his first book on the nutrient, titled The Common Form of Niacin Amide Deficiency Disease: Aniacinamidosis. In it, he lists a number of symptoms he'd observed in his patients who needed niacinamide:

  • Memory impaired; attention easily distracted; can't concentrate. Feels as if in a mental fog. Thought slowed. Difficulty comprehending. No longer reads as much as formerly.
  • Unwarranted anxiety. Lacks initiative, not co-operative. Delays making decisions; evasive. Dodges responsibility; starts projects, never finishes.
  • Frequently quarrelsome, mean, unreasonable, intolerant, opinionated, unhappy. Can't take a joke; little things annoy.

And he discovered that all of these symptoms-and many more-"disappeared or...improved considerably" with the use of niacinamide.

But it was one of Dr. Kaufman's other observations that led me to recommend niacinamide to the most people. His much longer and more detailed 1949 book focused on treatment of degenerative arthritis with niacinamide. And I saw first-hand many, many times that this therapy was just as effective as he reported.

Two or three years after I first read his books and started recommending niacinamide, I settled on a general dose of 1,000 milligrams taken three times a day. This timing followed Dr. Kaufman's careful clinical work, which showed that spreading out the total amount was significantly more effective than using it all at once. And-perhaps by co-incidence-this dose is actually the "human equivalent" of the amount given to the mice who recovered from the symptoms of Alzheimer's in the study mentioned above.

On the road to healing in as little as 3 weeks

Over the years, I've found that most people are able to take 1,000 milligrams of niacinamide three times daily indefinitely with no adverse effects. (I say "indefinitely" because, as Dr. Kaufman originally found, and my observations confirmed, niacinamide is a "control" but not an outright cure.) Nearly everyone reported that their arthritis symptoms started to improve in just three to four weeks. And after three to four months they'd most often disappear completely-and stay away as long as the person kept taking the vitamin. However, if they stopped taking it, the symptoms it had relieved would start to return (or worsen) just as quickly as they’d gone away-and come back as bad as ever in within four months months.

Occasionally someone would experience nausea taking the full amount of niacinamide. Whenever this occurred (which wasn't often) I recommended that the dose be cut in half, to 500 milligrams three times daily. Only one person in 33 years had the nausea persist at the lower dose (and that person was advised to reduce the quantity even further)-everyone else had their symptoms improve in the same pattern noted above with no return of nausea.

A few of those people who got nauseous with the full amount of niacinamide didn’t follow the advice to lower their dose, and, unfortunately their nausea went from mild to severe nausea, and even caused vomiting. Blood tests showed that these patients had elevated liver enzymes, brought on by excess niacinamide (or at least too much for those particular individuals' livers to process). But every case returned to normal within two to three weeks once the person stopped taking niacinamide completely. This sounds somewhat alarming but keep in mind that this only occurred in a small number of people: less than 10 of at least several hundred-possibly as many as 2,000 individuals-in over 33 years. And in those 33 years, there have been no other adverse symptoms!

According to news reports, clinical trials in humans with Alzheimer's are set to begin this year in both England and Southern California. But, again, there's no need for you to wait for the outcome of these clinical trials to try niacinamide for a family member who has Alzheimer's already. (And even if there’s no "official" diagnosis, it's worth a try for anyone who has any of the symptoms Dr. Kaufman outlined, listed on this page). Its exceptional safety, affordability, and availability make it worth trying right now. And when it's Alzheimer's, the sooner naicinamide is started, the better the chances are for it to work, before the accumulation of "intracellular garbage" has done irreversible damage. Of course it's best to work with a physician skilled and knowledgeable in nutritional and natural medicine, in case you have any questions.

Niacinamide is available in 500 and 1,000 milligram capsules and tablets. It can be found at nearly any natural food store, compounding pharmacy, and the Tahoma Clinic Dispensary.

Read the label carefully!

Although the names are quite similar, niacinamide is not niacin. Niacin can have many more side effects than niacinamide, particularly at higher quantities. Should you decide to try niacinamide for a family member suffering from Alzheimer's disease, make certain it's not niacin.

B3's other claim to fame

Vitamin B3 also has a history of improving another severe mental health problem-schizophrenia. Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D. (considered to be the "father" of orthomolecular psychiatry) started using niacinamide to treat schizophrenia in 1950. According to Dr. Hoffer's figures, schizophrenic individuals who started taking niacinamide, along with vitamin C, within five years of being diagnosed have a 66 percent-or higher-chance of recovery (although they also need to continue their niacinamide indefinitely).

References:

1 Tobinick E, Gross H, Weinberger A, Cohen H. "TNF-alpha modulation for treatment of Alzheimer's disease: a 6-month pilot study." MedGenMed 2006; 8(2): 25
2 Tobinick EL, Gross H. "Rapid cognitive improvement in Alzheimer's disease following perispinal etanercept administration." J Neuroinflammation 2008 9; 5:2
3 Green KN, Steffan JS, Martinez-Coria H, et al. "Nicotinamide restores cognition in Alzheimer's disease transgenic mice via a mechanism involving sirtuin inhibition and selective reduction of Thr231-phosphotau." J Neurosci 2008; 28(45): 11,500-11,510
4 "Vitamin pill that may slow Alzheimer's goes on trial," The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk), 11/5/08
5 "Vitamin holds promise for Alzheimer's disease," Discovery Health (www.health.discovery.com), 11/5/08


This article was published in the March, 2009 issue of the Dr. Jonathan V. Wright's Clinical Nutrition & Healing newsletter.