Medical Foods Developed to Help Fight Dementia

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS)

Medical foods developed to help fight dementia, and particularly Alzheimer’s disease (AD), have received extensive media coverage. Described as “miracle milkshakes,” two such products are Souvenaid and caprylidene (Axona). The two drinks contain different combinations of nutrients designed to reduce damage to brain cells and therefore improve cognitive functioning.

Souvenaid is marketed overseas to help support memory in again adults. However, it isn’t available for purchase in the United States. The company that makes Souvenaid (Nutricia) lists the following among the product’s ingredients:

  • Omega-3 fish oils
  • Phospholipids
  • Choline
  • Folic acid and vitamins B6, B12, C, and E
  • Selenium

This combination is designed to help nerve cells in the brains of people with AD make new connections (called synapses) and, as a result, repair the damage caused by the disease and thus reduce its symptoms.

Caprylidene is available in the United States, but only be prescription. In contrast to the multiple constituent ingredients in Souvenaid, it effectively has just one, caprylic triglyceride, which is derived from coconut oil. It’s designed to provide the brains of people with Alzheimer’s with a new form of energy when their ability to use the glucose the brain cells normally rely on for doing so is reduced.

The milkshakes both produce low-level side effects, the main symptoms being upset bowels, nausea, and a bit of gas. People with poorly controlled diabetes should be careful when using caprylidene. Because caprylidene is a triglyceride, researchers recommend that during treatment, patients undergo lipid panels including triglycerides be followed by laboratory blood work during treatment.

In terms of evidence, some small-scale studies have revealed some improvement in people with mild dementia as a result of using Souvenaid and caprylidene. Because these products are very expensive and are available only by prescription, the small potential benefit is probably outweighed by the financial cost.

Due to the high cost of prescription caprylidene, caregivers of dementia patients have been using coconut oil as a source of caprylic acid, which is often available over the counter in health food stores. Although some caregivers note coconut oil has helped their loved ones with dementia, no clinical research study has ever been conducted, so no scientific evidence shows that it works. Because coconut oil is a saturated fat, avoid using it if a person has high cholesterol levels or heart disease.