Pharmacists "shouldn't get excited" about the pharmacy-only nutritional supplement Souvenaid, which claims to boost memory in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, the Alzheimer's Society has warned.
The charity raised questions over the once-a-day nutritional drink, launched yesterday (January 14), which was found to improve episodic memory in clinical trials.
The combination of nutrients in Souvenaid – including omega-3 fatty acids, uridine and B vitamins – could slow the loss of synapses in the nervous system, which is connected to memory problems in Alzheimer's patients, said manufacturer Nutricia.
The Alzheimer's Society argued that Souvenaid was a lot less effective than existing early-dementia drugs
But, while the Alzheimer's Society agreed the product showed some benefits for memory, it argued there was no evidence that Souvenaid affected other aspects of thinking or everyday life and was a lot less effective than existing drugs available for the treatment of early dementia.
The charity also highlighted that the treatment could incur substantial costs, after Nutricia estimated that the average Souvenaid user would be worth £828 a year in retail sales value.
"For many older people with dementia, where finances might be tight, people are much better off putting their money towards good quality care or taking part in exercise," said Alzheimer's Society director of research Professor Clive Ballard. He added that it was vital to continue funding research into new treatments for the condition.
Responding to the Alzheimer's Society's comments, Nutricia stressed that Souvenaid was not intended to be a replacement for exercise or prescribed medication, but a clinically proven treatment option that should be discussed with healthcare professionals.
"We would respect the Alzheimer's Society for taking a cautious approach and managing expectations of their members, but Souvenaid isn't designed to be a treatment or cure," said Nutricia public and strategic affairs director Natasha Bye.
The product focused on improving the symptoms of early dementia, which mainly affected memory, Dr Bye highlighted. Nutricia said taking a daily dose of Souvenaid had improved memory performance among people in the early stages of Alzheimer's in 24-week clinical trials. The company is also conducting clinical trials into the product's effects in the "even earlier stages of Alzheimer's disease".
"We've taken this to 1,700 healthcare professionals and we've been overwhelmed by the positive reaction – so far pharmacists have engaged with this very positively," Dr Bye added.
Gareth Jones, a pharmacist manager at Murrays Pharmacy, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, said Souvenaid was a "breakthrough for patients".
"A nutritional approach, which is designed to support the brain's synapse formation at the early stages of the disease, makes a lot of sense," he said.
Pharmacists must complete training and an online assesment to be accredited to stock Souvenaid.