THE QUESTION Because no cure for Alzheimer’s exists, preventing or delaying its symptoms and progression has become the focus for those with the memory-robbing disorder. Might taking a large daily dose of Vitamin E help?
THIS STUDY involved 613 people, nearly all men, who averaged 79 years old and had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. All participants were taking a cholinesterase inhibitor, a commonly prescribed Alzheimer’s drug (donepezil, galantamine or rivastigmine). They were randomly assigned to one of four daily treatments: Vitamin E (2,000 international units); the Alzheimer’s drug memantine (20 milligrams); both Vitamin E and memantine; or placebos. After a little more than two years, standardized scales measuring cognitive and functional abilities showed an overall decline, on average, among all participants. Little difference was noted for cognition and memory, but the deterioration in functional abilities (being able to do basic daily tasks) was slower among people taking only Vitamin E: 19 percent slower than for the placebo group, equal to about a six-month delay in progression of the disease. Disease progression was not slowed for people taking memantine, with or without Vitamin E. Those taking Vitamin E also required about two fewer hours a day of help from caregivers than did the others.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. In the United States, more than 5 million people have Alzheimer’s, a number that is increasing rapidly as the population ages, and the number of cases is expected to nearly triple by 2050. Vitamin E, an antioxidant, is found naturally in vegetable oils, nuts, spinach and broccoli. It also is added to some foods and is available as a supplement.
CAVEATS The Vitamin E dosage used in the study is considered quite high: For most adults, the recommended daily intake is just 15 milligrams (about 22 international units). A previous study not limited to people with Alzheimer’s found higher death rates among those taking more than 400 units of Vitamin E a day and its authors urged people to not take high doses of the vitamin. In this study, however, the death rate for Vitamin E takers was a bit lower than for people in the other three groups. Three of the 33 authors have received funds from drug companies. Vitamins and drugs used in the study were provided by DSM Nutritional Products and Forest Laboratories.
FIND THIS STUDY Jan. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.