High Doses of Vitamin E Lengthen Lives of Alzheimer's Patients

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By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter
Wednesday, April 16, 2008; 12:00 AM

TUESDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Alzheimer's patients who consume very high levels of vitamin E seem to live longer than those who do not, new research suggests.

The study comes on the heels of growing concerns regarding the safety and efficacy of giving any patient -- whether suffering from Alzheimer's or another illness -- the high dosage in question: 2,000 international units (IUs) per day.

"The concern is that vitamin E will actually have a harmful affect, because a recent review of prior studies found that it had a slightly negative impact on mortality," said study author Valory Pavlik, an associate professor with the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"But I think -- to our surprise -- the message really is that for the treatment of Alzheimer's in clinical practice, we did not find evidence that high doses of vitamin E reduced survival," she said. "In fact, patients who took vitamin E seemed to live longer, particularly when they took it in combination with a cholinesterase inhibitor."

Pavlik and her colleagues were expected to present their research Tuesday at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Chicago.

Their findings stem from almost 15 years spent tracking survival rates among 847 men and women already diagnosed with various stages of Alzheimer's.

Just over two-thirds of the patients were women, and the average age was almost 74. On average, patient outcome was followed for about five years.

About two-thirds of the patients had been prescribed two daily doses of 1,000 IUs of vitamin E, in conjunction with an Alzheimer medication from the class of drugs known as cholinesterase inhibitors.

Cholinesterase inhibitors are designed to halt the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is key to nerve pulse function in the brain. Alzheimer's patients suffer from a drop in acetylcholine production, so this class of drugs prevents the otherwise normal elimination of excess transmitters among those who have none to spare.

Fewer than 10 percent of patients took just vitamin E, while about 15 percent took neither the vitamin nor the medication.

The researchers found that patients who consumed the prescribed daily dosage of vitamin E appeared to extend their life span by 26 percent, compared with those not taking vitamin E.

The finding took into account age, gender, years of education, race, ethnicity, co-morbidities and severity of dementia at the start of the study.


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