Friday, June 25, 2010

Brain boosters. Really?

The scientific literature and popular press commonly cite the medicines below approved for neurological disorders—as having potential to improve mental functioning in unimpaired people. The evidence is decidedly mixed, however, and even if the drugs do prove helpful, their risks may keep the agents from gaining approval by regulators for marketing to healthy individuals.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta and others) and amphetamines (Adderall and others). Stimulants used for treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (uncontrollable sleep spells). Increase cognitive performance on certain tasks under conditions of fatigue; may improve planning and one type of working memory; appear to increase functioning on dull, repetitive tasks. Could worsen performance in a subset of users or on complex tasks; cardiovascular complications and seizures, hallucinations and addiction.

Modafinil (Provigil). Newer-generation stimulant for narcolepsy and excessive sleepiness because of shift work or obstructive sleep apnea. Appear to augment mental focus and better performance on a limited set of cognitive measures, such as recall of long strings of numbers. May have a higher potential for addiction than originally thought; may cause serious skin rashes.

Donepezil (Aricept). Treatment for the cognitive defi cits of Alzheimer’s disease; increases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to improve cognition. Might aid in learning or memory, but overall results are equivocal; may take several weeks to work and is not as widely used off-label as the drugs above. Could cause a slight deterioration in cognitive performance in healthy individuals.

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Source of Information : Scientific American October 2009

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