Friday, September 19, 2008

When it takes more than a minute to describe how many medications you're taking...time to take a closer look.

Yesterday I was lunching with a dear friend, who mentioned that one of HIS friends has started to have problems with diabetes. I knew this friend also has Alzheimer's disease, so, knowing that many brain and nervous system-targeted medications can provoke insulin resistance and diabetes, I started asking questions about this person's medications.

We called the friend we were discussing for a complete list. Sure enough, in the battery of medications he had been prescribed...was valproic acid, or Depakote. Depakote is well documented to promote the development of metabolic syndrome--a cluster of problems including hypertension, insulin resistance, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Much of the research in this area has focused on women, because polycystic ovary syndrome, a feminine variant of metabolic syndrome, is also correlated with Depakote use. If you're looking for research on the effects of Depakote in men, it's there, it's just a little harder to find.

New research is suggesting that there is a link between diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Some researchers even call it diabetes of the brain, and there is some evidence to suggest that diabetes medications such as metformin can help delay the progression of Alzheimer's syndrome.

So here we have a guy who has been prescribed a seizure medication, which has likely provoked his problems with diabetes, which is likely worsening his Alzheimer's disease...and what do you know? It seems as though now that he is on galantamine (Reminyl) for his Alzheimer's disease, he's started noticing tremors. I'd bet money on the possibility that the seizure meds are adjusted upward as a result.

So you can see where I'm going. Not only does this keep this poor guy's physicians busy, it pads the pockets of more than one pharmaceutical company, in progressively more expensive chunks.

My friend asked me what I would do? Well, I must qualify that I am not a prescribing medical doctor. I am a registered dietitian who studies the brain and nervous system. But this is where I'd go.

1. Based on the evidence that seizure disorders respond well to omega-3 fatty acids, I'd up those to a DHA equivalent of 1000 mg per day.
2. To help those omega-3's be most effective, I'd teach this person my "S" and "C" rule (avoid, as much as possible, all fats and oils beginning with the letters "S" and "C"...canola being the only exception). I know my friend and his friend eat out quite a bit and it likely is a significant source of these oils.
3. If you reduce the seizure and tremor activity, you reduce the need for seizure medication, and minimizing medications is always very important.
4. I would consider an alternative seizure medication with less potential for disrupting hormone balance. The one that I have seen repeatedly and successfully used in women to achieve this is lamotrigine (Lamictal). Of course, there may be a reason we do not know of that this would not be appropriate, but if this has not been considered it's certainly worth a try.
5. Less Depakote (or potentially no Depakote) potentially also means less insulin resistance, which provides the possibility that the Alzheimer's medication could be reduced. Again, less meds....fewer side effects.
6. Finally, acetyl l-carnitine has been shown to effectively reduce symptoms of diabetes as well as Alzheimer's disease. It also improves cholesterol profiles. has repeatedly and specifically been found to effectively counter the negative side effects of Depakote. I have seen this cited so often recently I can't understand why it is not automatic for any physician prescribing Depakote to simultaneously recommend carnitine.

This trend, of treating one symptom, letting side effects develop, then treating them with other meds that create other side effects, which eventually build vicious cycles of ever-increasing doses of recent years...has spiraled out of control. The field of nutritional psychiatry is just out of the starting gate. But I'm hooked on its potential. Hopefully in this case, and for others who find this blog, we can help back our friends out of these pharmaceutical corners, save them some money, and improve their overall quality of life.

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