Knowing what content is out there is vital to gaining insight into how our patients go about their daily lives after they leave the doctor’s office

Plants have been a source of treatments and cures for thousands of years. Hammurabi’s Code from Babylonian times documented more than 250 medicinal plants and drugs, such as narcotics from hemp and opium. Medications were ground, strained, and filtered for ointments or plasters, but the outcomes of these interventions is less clear.

Much has changed since then, and yet, much remains the same. We still don’t have an answer to every ailment, and with information more accessible, patients are increasingly turning to other alternatives, complements, and even supplements to what a physician offers.

So, what’s the latest?

1. Turmeric

Turmeric powder in spoon and roots on wooden plate

Well, if headlines are to be believed, some of our patients will talk about their newfound fondness for curry, why? Turmeric, or more precisely — the curcumin found in turmeric.

Recently published research found that daily oral curcumin led to significant memory and attention benefits. The placebo-controlled study followed patients for 18 months. Neurocognitive testing and PET scans revealed a decrease in plaque and tangle accumulation in brain regions modulating mood and memory, with patients in the experimental group outperforming those in the placebo group. While the results look exciting, and certainly make for attention-grabbing headlines, what people might overlook is the fact that this one study only enrolled 40 patients — 21 receiving curcumin and 19 receiving the placebo — not exactly practice-changing findings.1

2. Green tea

Cup of green tea and spoon on table

Green tea might also find its way into patients’ kitchens. A recently published study found that a compound of green tea, polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), can remodel amyloid oligomers that form in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

While this is certainly a breakthrough toward an increased understanding of the physiopathology of the disease, in order to benefit from EGCg, the compound must be put in the brain. The authors themselves mention accomplishing this by drinking green tea would be quite the challenge.2

3. Blueberries

Close up of fresh picked blueberries in wooden spoon

Blueberries are also getting a lot of press time. Most recently, a double-blinded placebo-controlled study enrolled 76 patients with subjective complaints of cognitive decline. A third of these patients were randomized into a freeze-dried and powdered blueberry group, another third into a fish oil supplements group, and the final third into the placebo group.

Neurocognitive assessments were performed on all groups throughout a 24-week follow-up period. Out of all measurements completed, the only one where a significant difference was found was among patient-reported cognitive symptoms. The more objective measures, such as trails A or B, and memory tests, yielded non-significant changes after the study intervention.3

Medical advances, increased knowledge, and cutting-edge research, certainly benefit our field. Attention-grabbing headlines and 20-second spots of air time push health to the forefront of conversation, and as physicians, knowing and understanding what content is out there, and what our patients are reading, is vital to really gaining insight into how our patients go about their daily lives after they leave the office.

References

  1. Small, G.W., Siddarth, P., Li, Z., et al. (2017). Memory and brain amyloid and tau effects of a bioavailable form of curcumin in non-demented adults: a double-blind, placebo-controlled 18-month trial. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 26(3), 266-277.
  2. Ahmed, R., VanSchouwen, B., Jafari, N., et al. (2017). Molecular mechanism for the (-)-epigallocatechin gallate-induced toxic to nontoxic remodeling of Aβ oligomers. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 139(39), 13720-13734.
  3. McNamara, R.K., Kalt, W., Shidler, M.D., et al. (2018). Cognitive response to fish oil, blueberry, and combined supplementation in older adults with subjective cognitive impairment. Neurobiol Aging, 64, 147-156. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2017.12.003