Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks With The Right Diet
These supplements, acetyl-l-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid, are continuing to be studied in work with humans, and
scientists believe they may provide a new approach to the neurodegeneration and cognitive decline common with
The newest study was just published in FASEB Journal, produced by the Federation of American Societies for
Experimental Biology, by researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, the University of
Toronto, University of California/Berkeley, Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, and Juvenon, Inc.
It found that supplements of these two antioxidant compounds, which are believed to play a role in slowing
mitochondrial decay in the cell, significantly increased the ability of “geriatric” beagle dogs to learn a new
The study builds on similar findings made several years ago, done with mice and published in Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences. In that research, the activity and energy level of old rats taking these same
supplements almost doubled, and memory and cognitive function improved.
“The prospects for cognitive improvement from use of these supplements is both fascinating and exciting,” said Tory
Hagen, an associate professor in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute, and recognized expert on the biological processes
“This is the first time these two compounds, by themselves, have been tested in canines, which have brains that are
more biologically similar to humans than some other animal models,” Hagen said. “The results should be relevant to
what we could expect with humans, and are very encouraging.”
In this study, an inbred line of older, very similar beagle dogs were taught how to find a food treat by
identifying certain markers, such as a yellow wooden peg. Applied scents were used to control for any tip-off by
sense of smell. Some dogs received short-term dietary supplementation with acetyl-l-carnitine and lipoic acid, and
others did not.
On one task, four of six dogs receiving supplements quickly learned to find the food treat by identifying the
correct marker, while only two of six dogs on normal diet succeeded. After 15 more weeks of training, more than 80
percent of supplemented dogs were successful, while only 50 percent of those not receiving supplements could learn
the new task.
“We’ve shown in some previous animal work that these supplements could improve memory and energy level,” Hagen
said. “Now we’re seeing that animals receiving supplements are much more readily able to learn new things as well,
even at an advanced age.”
In these tests, the effects of supplementation with these compounds appeared to work fairly quickly, in a matter of
days or weeks, the scientists said. Some other studies, however, have required much longer periods of
supplementation for various antioxidants to improve cognitive performance.
Humans also experience loss of the type of object and spatial discrimination that was improved by supplements in
these animal tests - it’s often one of the early signs of human dementia.
The scientists suggested in the paper that long-term supplementation “may be effective in attenuating
age-associated cognitive decline by slowing the rate of mitochondrial decay and cellular aging.” Enhancing the
function of mitochondria - which provide almost all of a cell’s energy - could literally be providing animals with
more “mental energy,” leading to improved memory and learning, the study indicated. The compounds may also cause
increased synthesis of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
An increasing body of research suggests that mitochondria may be an “Achilles heel” for absorbing age-related
damage, as part of the natural process of oxidation in the body and the related “free radicals” that are produced
and can cause cellular damage. As the power plant of cells, mitochondria perform many of the roles critical to cell
function, use up to 90 percent of the oxygen humans breathe, but are also among the first cellular components to be
damaged by reactive radical oxygen species.
This study was funded by private industry, including companies that produce the compounds being studied.
Clinical experiments with humans using these supplements are already under way, scientists said.
Source -Science Daily
Back to Top