New hope for dementia—
estrogen, kampo medicine

If the memory is the first to go, then all of us should sit up and take notice of the research of Nobuyoshi Hagino, MD, PhD, professor of cellular & structural biology at the Health Science Center, and his clinical colleagues in Japan.

Dr. Hagino did the basic research that led to clinical trials in Japan of estrogen for use in patients with dementia of Alzheimer type (DAT). Four patients with mild DAT, seven moderate and four severe patients were treated with an oral dose of estrogen twice a day for six weeks. They were compared with a control group of four mild, seven moderate and four severe DAT patients not treated with estrogen. Members of the treatment group regained the ability to function in daily life and communicate with family and friends, while the control group members did not.

On the heels of this study, a second clinical trial—also conducted after years of lab research by Dr. Hagino—found that "kampo medicine" was even more effective than estrogen at helping DAT patients. Kampo medicine, a mixture of specific roots and herbs, is traditional Japanese medicine. It helped female DAT patients participating in a study in a number of ways—they showed significant improvement in conversation, removing/putting on clothes, writing ability, long-term memory and so forth.

The roots and herbs also seemed to ease the patients’ minds. DAT patients treated with kampo medicine showed "considerable improvement in arousal disorders, absent-mindedness, eating disorders and delirium, and easing of irritation, anxiety and restlessness graded on a dementia evaluation scale," Dr. Hagino said.

Another attractive feature of kampo medicine: it appears to have no side effects. "More studies will follow, but based on the results of this first trial, we are recommending to clinicians in Japan that they prescribe kampo medicine for dementia treatment in Alzheimer’s patients," Dr. Hagino stated.

One of the studies to follow is a large-scale, double-blind clinical study of kampo medicine in Chinese patients, planned with Peking Union Medical College and the Chinese Academy of Medical Science. In double-blind studies, neither patients nor physicians know which group of patients is receiving the active drug and which is getting an inactive placebo.

Estrogen is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in DAT patients in this country. Kampo medicine currently is not FDA-approved, but Dr. Hagino and others are seeking approval.


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