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Medical Foods: Treating Alzheimer’s, Depression

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One in 8 older Americans is living with Alzheimer’s disease.  Almost twice as many women suffer from it as men. There is no cure, but slowing it down could be as simple as drinking a high-powered prescription energy drink.
“I have days that are not as good as others,” Joyce Mason told Ivanhoe.
“You start out, you find yourself lost, and you have to ask for help,” Geneva Marcum told Ivanhoe.
The days are not only getting harder for Joyce and Geneva, but also for the people who love them the most.
“We do our prayers together. Some days, she’s on top of things. Some days, she struggles to find the pages,” Sam Mason, Joyce's husband, told Ivanhoe.
Like 5.5 million other people, Joyce and Geneva are losing their memories and losing their minds to Alzheimer’s -- a disease that can strike in the prime of life, without discrimination.
“My Uncle Bob had Alzheimer’s disease. My dad’s cousin had Alzheimer’s,” Richard S. Isaacson, M.D., associate professor of clinical neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Isaacson watched family members fall victim to it. Now, he’s using an all-encompassing approach to try and stop it.
“I want to do anything and everything that’s safe and beneficial,” Dr. Isaacson told Ivanhoe.
In addition to medications, therapy and exercise, Dr. Isaacson is turning to medical foods to help delay memory loss in his patients.
"It’s not a typical pill. It’s not a patch. It’s something you have to shake up and drink slowly after each meal,” Dr. Isaacson said.
Axona is a medical shake -- an energy drink -- for the brain.
“It basically gives the brain an alternative food source,” Dr. Isaacson said.
Research shows after an Alzheimer’s patient drinks it, ketone bodies circulate in the brain. 
“It supplies the brain with energy. It acts like glucose, the ketone body. So, it feeds the neurons, or the brain cells, with glucose and gives them a source of energy,” Susan Steen, M.D., from the Tampa Neurology Associates, and president, Axiom Clinical Research of Florida, told Ivanhoe.
Teresa Alfonzo’s family started seeing the signs of Alzheimer’s in their mother 10 years ago.
“We started noticing she couldn’t take care of herself,” Rafael Alfonzo, Teresa’s son, told Ivanhoe.
Her memory faded fast.
“I often tell my mother, she’s the little girl I never had,” Margaret, Teresa's daughter, said.
Teresa started on Axona. Three months later, tests that required her to draw a clock revealed an improvement.
In a double blind study, Axona was given to 77 Alzheimer’s patients.
After 90 days, all the people taking Axona remained stable or got better. The people on the placebo did not. Despite these results, Axona doesn’t work for everyone.
"Certain people that test positive for a certain type of genetic profile may do better than others,” Dr. Steen said.
Experts say Axona works for 45 percent of Alzheimer’s patients.  “It’s not going to work in everyone, but hey, if Grandpa can remember his grandson’s name…if Grandma can be alert…engaged and talking, then that’s a win-win for the patient, the caregiver and also me,” Dr. Isaacson said.
The FDA does not approve medical foods, but they do regulate them and define them as something specially-formulated for dietary management of a disease, and it must meet nutritional needs that cannot be met by a normal diet. It must used under supervision of a doctor.
Although some patients see results immediately, the Alzheimer’s Association does not endorse any medical food. It released a statement calling all medical foods, "a subject of concern.” Some doctors are reluctant to use them due to lack of scientific research. But Teresa's family feels it’s working.