Taking vitamin E and C supplements together might reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests today.
Previous studies had hinted that the so-called antioxidant vitamins might help protect the brain against the degenerative disease, but the evidence has been far from conclusive. Vitamin use is one of many possible strategies that researchers are studying in hopes of finding a way to prevent Alzheimer's.
Their search has a sense of urgency: If this or other preventive measures don't pan out, an estimated 16 million Americans will develop this incurable brain disease by the year 2050.
Peter Zandi of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and his colleagues focused their study on vitamin use. In 1995, Zandi's team recruited 4,740 men and women age 65 and older living in Cache County, Utah. The team examined each recruit and found that 200 already had Alzheimer's.
At the beginning of the study, the team asked each recruit (or a caregiver if the recruit had memory loss) about his or her use of vitamin supplements. The team found that people taking vitamins E and C in combination had a reduced chance of being in the group diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
The researchers examined the recruits again three or four years later. They found that another 104 people had developed Alzheimer's disease. When the team went back and did a statistical analysis, it found that vitamins C and E again seemed to offer protection against Alzheimer's.
''Vitamins C and E might slow down the underlying pathogenesis of this disease,'' Zandi says. The team describes its findings in the January issue of the Archives of Neurology.
Researchers believe the most effective doses were vitamin E in liquid capsules of 400 to 1,000 International Units and vitamin C in pill form of 500 to 1,500 milligrams.
These vitamins, known as antioxidants, could help shield the brain from highly damaging molecules called free radicals. Brain cells are particularly vulnerable to damage by free radicals, which are produced along with the plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
Antioxidant vitamins are thought to help because they absorb free radicals in the brain -- before they get a chance to injure brain cells, says Bill Thies of the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association.
Still, this study alone offers no proof that vitamins E and C can help prevent the disease, Thies says. To do that, researchers would have to test the effectiveness of vitamins E and C in a study that pits vitamins against a placebo.
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