USF scientists develop natural brain supplement

Special to the Oracle

One of the most prevalent diseases in older adults is also one of the most disheartening; families of those stricken with Alzheimer’s disease know this better than anyone. 

With the average human lifespan getting increasingly longer, many more people reach the age of cognitive decline. During this decline, things such as the ability to process speed and motor cognition start to slip away. 

However, a group of scientists at USF have developed a supplement in the hopes of preventing cognitive decline in later years.

The idea for the all-natural supplement Nutrastem Smart, a product of Natura Therapeutics Inc., came from Paula Bickford, a senior research career scientist at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital at USF, and Paul Sanberg, USF vice president of Research and Innovation. The supplement contains vitamin D and carnosine, as well as extracts of blueberries and green tea.

The two researchers put their supplement to the test in a study conducted by Brent Small and funded by the USF Neuroscience Collaborative.

“Even completely normal, highly functioning adults have slowing of how fast we can do something,” Bickford said. “Those were the kinds of measures that were done in (this) study.” 

While the idea came about a decade ago, the actual study began three years back, and focused on normally aging adults who took a before and after baseline cognitive performance test while on the supplement. 

“We really weren’t expecting to see a big effect, but what we did see was an effect on processing speed,” said Douglas Shytle, an associate professor of neuroscience involved in the project. “We thought that was fascinating.”

While this lead to the development of Nutrastem Smart, Bickford said it’s difficult to perform this kind of study because cognitive decline is something that happens over a long period of time. This study was performed over two months.

It’s also why, according to Dr. Jun Tan of USF Health’s Silver Child Development Center, a cure has yet to be developed for patients with Alzheimer’s. Tan especially felt the need to help after observing the behavior of elderly people in nursing homes.

“Once they get in the nursing home, most people are just sitting there (doing nothing),” Tan said. “It’s sad, very sad. It (had) me thinking that we have to develop something to help them.”

Tan also knew Mary Louise Silver, wife of Dr. Archie Silver, who founded the Silver Child Development Center at USF Health. Tan said that when he knew Mary, she could recall her romantic love story with her husband. When he followed up with her, she was entirely different.

“She couldn’t remember your name; she’d forget after a couple minutes,” Tan said. “She couldn’t build new connections to finish the learning process. She couldn’t recognize anybody.”

Tan also said there’s a 40 percent chance that patients over the age of 80 will develop Alzheimer’s. 

While Nutrastem Smart doesn’t serve as a cure for Alzheimer’s, it acts as a preventative supplement and Shytle even recommends it for college-age students.

“I think it would be helpful for any population,” Shytle said. “All the ingredients are natural (and) have important benefits to maintain health. It’s a convenient means of getting extra dietary nutrition.”

Other factors slowing risks for Alzheimer’s or even Dementia include proper diet and exercise.

“The combo is definitely a benefit to aging people, to prevent or slow down Alzheimer’s,” said Tan. “We don’t have the magic pill yet.”

Natural supplements, Shytle said, can also be much more beneficial than synthetic drugs, which can contain environmental toxins.

Bickford, who also patented the product, believes that while Nutrastem might not have a huge impact on people already struggling with the disease, it’s definitely something that can help those at risk. 

“This supplement isn’t designed to have benefits in that area, but it’s something that, if you can improve a little bit of function in some aspects of their behavior, then that carries over,” she said. 

Bickford and the others are hoping to get further funding for studies of mild cognitive impairment, though they first need to have it approved by the Institutional Review Board. 

Nutrastem Smart is now available at Publix and online, and other versions of the supplement, Nutrastem Active and Nutrastem Bone & Joint, are also available for purchase.

While some cognitive impairment is natural, preserving as much of one’s memory as possible and helping slow the aging process are key components of Nutrastem Smart. The developers of Natura Therapeutics believe this homegrown USF method is just one way to better health.