We haven't discovered a cure for Alzheimer's, or a drug that reverses the ravages of the disease, but researchers may have found a treatment to slow disease progression that's simple, cheap and safe.
Among more than 600 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, a daily high dose of vitamin E slowed the decline in the ability of patients to perform everyday tasks, such as dress or bathe independently, by about six months on average. And, perhaps more tellingly, those taking vitamin E needed two fewer hours a day of help from caregivers.
The study, which appeared in the Jan. 1 issue of JAMA, didn't find any improvement in the memory or thinking ability of the patients. Those taking the Alzheimer's medication memantine or a combination of vitamin E and memantine didn't do any better than those taking a placebo.
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"We were focusing on activities of daily living," said study author Mary Sano, Ph.D., director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the Bronx VA. "Once the person has the disease, those are the things that make them dysfunctional." Sano said the patients in this study were veterans with mild to early moderate Alzheimer's disease who were living at home with a caregiver. Researchers don't know exactly why vitamin E might help Alzheimer's patients, but they've speculated that it's related to the vitamin's antioxidant properties. Patients in the study took 2,000 IUs daily-about the equivalent of two over-the-counter vitamin E pills.
So should we all start taking high doses of vitamin E for brain health? Definitely not, says Sano, who is also a professor in the department of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. This study doesn't apply to the general population, she says. Sano would recommend it, however, for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's.
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Previous studies have found that vitamin E didn't help people with mild cognitive impairment - often a precursor to dementia - or those with more severe disease. And some studies have shown that vitamin E may be harmful. Sano says the researchers were well aware of those studies but found these supplements to be "very safe."
It can't hurt, though, to get plenty of vitamin E from your diet. The foods rich in vitamin E top the lists of foods that are good for your brain and heart - spinach, nuts such as almonds, sunflower seeds, avocados, shrimp and tofu. Try this recipe for Shrimp, Grapefruit and Avocado salad for a healthy - and delicious - dose of vitamin E.
Photo: Joseph Devenney/Getty Images
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