Background: Alzheimer's disease sufferers have been found to have a lack of the enzyme responsible for converting choline into acetylcholine within the brain. Lecithin is a major dietary source of choline, so extra consumption may reduce the progression of dementia.
Objectives: To determine the efficacy of lecithin in the treatment of dementia or cognitive impairment.
Search strategy: The Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group's Specialized Register was searched on 15 May 2002 using the terms lecithin and phosphaditylcholine. This contains records from all major databases and many trials databases. Reference lists and relevant books have been examined.
Selection criteria: All unconfounded, randomized trials comparing lecithin with placebo in a treatment period longer than one day, in patients with dementia of the Alzheimer type, vascular dementia, mixed vascular and Alzheimer's disease, unclassified or other dementia or unclassified cognitive impairment not fulfilling the criteria for dementia are eligible for inclusion.
Data collection and analysis: Data were extracted by two independent reviewers and cross-checked. Meta-analyses were performed when more than one trial provided data on a comparable outcome on sufficiently similar patients. Random effects analyses were performed whenever heterogeneity between results appeared to be present. Standardised differences in mean outcome measures were used due do the use of different scales and periods of treatment. Odds ratios for dichotomous data were pooled using the Mantel-Haenszel or DerSimonian and Laird methods.
Main results: Twelve randomized trials have been identified involving patients with Alzheimer's disease (265 patients), Parkinsonian dementia (21 patients) and subjective memory problems (90 patients). No trials reported any clear clinical benefit of lecithin for Alzheimer's disease or Parkinsonian dementia. Few trials contributed data to meta-analyses. The only statistically significant result was in favour of placebo for adverse events, based on one trial, which appears likely to be a spurious result. A dramatic result in favour of lecithin was obtained in a trial of subjects with subjective memory problems.
Reviewer's conclusions: Evidence from randomized trials does not support the use of lecithin in the treatment of patients with dementia. A moderate effect cannot be ruled out, but results from the small trials to date do not indicate priority for a large randomized trial.