I've heard about a new Alzheimer's supplement called Axona. What does it do and can it really treat Alzheimer's?

Answers from Glenn Smith, Ph.D.

Axona is a prescription dietary supplement that claims to target the nutritional needs of people with Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's is thought to hinder the brain's ability to break down glucose. According to Axona's marketing materials, the supplement provides an alternative energy source that the brain can use instead of glucose.

It's not clear what benefits, if any, Axona provides. A small study, funded by the manufacturers of the product, found that memory and cognition improved for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. However, more studies are needed to determine its safety and effectiveness.

Axona is marketed as a medical food. Medical foods are specially formulated and processed foods that help manage a disease or condition that causes nutritional deficiencies. The Alzheimer's Association, however, disputes the notion that Alzheimer's disease causes nutritional deficiencies and requires a medical food.

Medical foods are given only under the supervision of a doctor. The Food and Drug Administration doesn't require the same high level of approval for medical foods as it does for prescription medications.

Until more is known, the Alzheimer's Association doesn't recommend the use of medical foods, including Axona, for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

Jul. 24, 2014