Vitamin E and Alzheimer prevention
THE MIND-BLOWING ALZHEIMER’S STUDY
Alzheimer’s is agonizingly difficult to treat, and pharmaceutical drugs can have horrendous side effects. Yet, plain old vitamin E matched a prescription drug in treating Alzheimer’s and was far safer. That’s the conclusion of a study, bearing the names of six prestigious universities including Harvard, Columbia, and the University of California and published in one of the top mainstream medical journals in the world, The New England Journal of Medicine, in April 1997.
As a result, the American Psychiatric Association now recommends vitamin E, as well as certain prescription drugs such as Cognex and Aricept, as treatment for individuals diagnosed with mild or moderate dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
In the two-year study, 341 patients with moderately severe Alzheimer’s randomly took either selegiline (a drug prescribed for Parkinson’s and thought beneficial for Alzheimer’s), or 1000 IU of synthetic vitamin E twice a day, or both vitamin E and the drug, or a placebo sugar pill.
The conclusion: Vitamin E delayed progression of Alzheimer’s in more than half of those who took it, whereas most placebo takers continued to deteriorate. Vitamin E also slightly beat out selegiline and, oddly, was even better alone than when combined with the drug.
Specifically, vitamin E (and the drug) decreased functional breakdown in Alzheimer’s patients—the ability to perform activities of daily living—by about 25 percent. Further, vitamin E takers survived longer and avoided institutionalization longer. Only 26 percent on vitamin E had to enter a nursing home during the study compared with 33 percent on the drug and 39 percent on placebo. Thus, vitamin E allowed patients to stay at home for an extra seven months before going to a nursing home. “No other treatments have shown a similar ability to delay important milestones in Alzheimer’s disease,” proclaimed the National Institute on Aging.
Researchers speculate vitamin E worked by increasing functioning and/or survival of certain brain cells, possibly by protecting them from destructive rancidity or oxidation. Interestingly, the study used synthetic instead of natural vitamin E. The results would probably have been even more impressive with natural vitamin E, says antioxidant expert Dr. Lester Packer.
BOTTOM LINE: Taking 2000 IU of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E daily delayed key signs of the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, including the ability to bathe and dress, the need for institutionalization, and survival time.
The big question for most Americans: Will taking vitamin E help prevent or slow down brain degeneration and the onset of Alzheimer’s? Theoretically, it should, say many brain researchers who themselves are taking vitamin E to protect their own brains from deterioration. The National Institute on Aging thinks it’s a good possibility, too. They are testing the theory on a group of 720 Americans, ages fifty-five to ninety, who have been diagnosed with “mild cognitive impairment,” called MCI, meaning they score at the low end of normal for their age on memory tests. According to Dr. Leon Thal, principal investigator for the new study and chairman of neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, about 75 percent of people with such cognitive impairment are expected to develop Alzheimer’s. “Alzheimer’s is not a sudden event, like falling down,” he says. It comes on gradually and mild cognitive impairment, called MCI, is an early warning sign. In one study, 12 per cent of patients with MCI developed Alzheimer’s within a year, compared with only 1 or 2 percent of healthy individuals.
Investigators hope vitamin E will delay the progression from MCI to full-blown Alzheimer’s better than a placebo or the drug Aricept. The study will use a 1000 IU daily dose of synthetic alpha tocopherol for the first six weeks, and 2,000 IU daily after that.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of reason to make you want to take vitamin E to protect your brain, especially if you are approaching middle age.
VITAMIN E TAKERS DIDN’T GET ALZHEIMER’S
A striking new double-blind study did show your risk of Alzheimer’s goes way down if you take vitamin E. A team of researchers from Chicago’s Rush Institute for Healthy Aging and Harvard Medical School studied 633 individuals age sixty-five or older, giving them memory tests and carefully examining what vitamins they took, especially vitamins E and C.
More than four years later, investigators reevaluated the mental functioning of the group through neurological examinations and testing. Ninety-one were diagnosed with “probable Alzheimer’s.” However, the stunning finding was that not a single person among the twenty-seven who took vitamin E supplements developed Alzheimer’s; expected cases were four, or about 15 percent. Moreover, no one among the twenty-three who took vitamin C supplements developed Alzheimer’s, either, although again 15 percent would be expected.
How much did they take? From 200 to 800 IU of vitamin E daily. Typical doses were 400 IU of vitamin E or 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily, standard amounts in separate supplements. It’s important to note that taking multivitamin supplements containing low doses of vitamin E (usually 30 IU) and vitamin C (60 milligrams) did not reduce the odds of Alzheimer’s. Such multivitamin users in the study were just as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those who took no vitamins! There is probably too little E and C in conventional multivitamin pills to protect the brain, researchers said.
Imagine! The number of individuals taking vitamin E or vitamin C who developed Alzheimer’s was zero—”the strongest result possible,” as researchers noted. To put it another compelling way: Whether you take vitamin E or C could actually predict whether Alzheimer’s is in your future!
BRAIN ALERT: About thirty percent of Americans have a known deficiency of vitamin E, according to government statistics.