Early results from an ongoing study into Alzheimer's disease in Europe suggest that a commonly available, over-the-counter nutritional supplement could help conserve memory function in patients with the early stages of the disease.

Scientists in Finland have been examining the effects of regular consumption of 'Fortasyn Connect', a patented combination of nutrients, sold under the brand name Souvenaid. While the early findings offer mixed results, the two-year clinical trial of 311 Alzheimer's patients suggests drinking Souvenaid daily does confer benefits to the memory function of people with prodomal (early stage) Alzheimer's.

"We have known for a while that diet can reduce the risk of developing dementia. Indeed, certain nutrients have been found to have a neuroprotective effect on the brain," said researcher Tobias Hartmann from Saarland University in Germany and coordinator of the LipiDiDiet project – a European effort to investigate how nutrition impacts the development of Alzheimer's.

"However, translating this into an effective intervention hasn't been easy because single nutrients simply aren't powerful enough to fight a disease like Alzheimer's alone," he added. "Today's clinical trial results have shown that the key is combining certain nutrients, in order to increase their effect."

Based on the trial results so far, the combination of ingredients in Fortasyn Connect appears to have a positive impact on the brains of patients with early Alzheimer's.

The product contains a number of nutrients that research suggests are important for maintaining healthy cell membranes and connections between cells. These include uridine monophosphate, choline, omega–3 fatty acids, phospholipids, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid.

In the study, those who drank Souvenaid every day outperformed a control group in episodic memory tests that gauged the recollection of each patient's personal, autobiographical history.

Consuming the nutritional supplement also saw the patients' brains shrink less during the study, including in the hippocampus region, which is related to memory storage.

When it came to the primary outcomes of the trial, however, Fortasyn Connect wasn't as impressive. Broader tests of cognitive function – measuring things like word recall and recognition, and letter-digit substitution tests – did not show a significant benefit over the control group, which suggests that there's still a lot we don't know about how nutrition and Alzheimer's interact.

Nonetheless, the scientists say these early results are positive, especially since they seem to back up some of the claimed benefits of a widely available supplement – which had never previously been independently tested. And with a further six years to go in the study, it's likely there'll be more to report on in the future.

"This is exciting because it shows that in the absence of effective drug options, we really have found something that can help slow down some of the most distressing symptoms in prodromal AD; especially in those who started the intervention early," said Hartmann. "Indeed those patients who have lost the least cognitive function, have the most to gain."

While studies like this could help patients with Alzheimer's fight the symptoms of the disease, a scientific editorial published this week suggests we should move our research focus to the causes of the disease.

A coalition of Alzheimer's researchers writes that mounting evidence suggests the herpes virus and two kinds of bacteria could be responsible for triggering harmful changes in the brain, and we should point more research efforts in this direction.

With some 47 million people in the world currently having Alzheimer's and that number expected to double every 20 years, scientists really have their work cut out for them in combating this terrible disease. Let's hope we have more promising research to report on shortly.

The LipiDiDiet findings were presented this week at the 14th International Athens/Springfield Symposium on Advances in Alzheimer Therapy.