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Vitamin E can ‘slow cognitive decline’

New research suggests that people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease may benefit from taking regular vitamin E supplements. More than six hundred patients took part in the study, sponsored by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which ran over two years. Dr Maurice Dysken who led the study suggested that, while vitamin E was not a miracle cure for the disease, it was likely that it could reduce the rate at which Alzheimer’s disease progressed, thus delaying the decline in carrying out certain activities of daily living for around six months.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant similar to those found in red wine, grapes and certain teas. Antioxidants are known to delay or prevent certain types of damage to cells that can contribute to diseases such as cancer and heart disease. In the diet, vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds and vegetable oils as well as leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals. While no safety concerns regarding vitamin E in food have been identified, vitamin E supplements in high doses do have recognised adverse effects in addition to potentially interacting with certain medications. For this reason doctors have stressed that people should only take vitamin E under medical supervision for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study

The research was conducted with a total of 613 patients who had been diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and were taking medication to control their symptoms. They were divided into four groups, with 152 people receiving a daily dose of vitamin E, a second group receiving a daily dose of memantine, another dementia medicine, the third group being given a combination of the two and the final group receiving a placebo. The groups receiving the memantine and the combination of vitamin E and memantine did not show the beneficial effects of the first group who were taking vitamin E alone.

An assessment of functional decline was made using the ADCS-ADL inventory in which how well patients cope with the activities of daily living is scored from 0 to 78. These include activities such as washing, dressing, making meals and holding a conversation. Those taking only vitamin E showed a 19 per cent lower rate of decline per year in functional daily living activities than the group taking the placebo. This was equivalent to a delay of about six months before these skills declined. Thinking skills were not found to be affected by vitamin E and memantine. The time spent with the patients by caregivers also increased less in the vitamin E group with caregiver time being reduced by an average of two hours a day.

The study was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).


From a patient’s point of view, the ability to maintain their independence for longer is very valuable. As vitamin E is inexpensive it is thought that the supplement would bring cost effective benefits, particularly with regard to caregiver time. The president of New York’s Mount Sinai Health System which was included in the study said that this was a strong clinical trial that showed that vitamin E slowed functional decline in patients and reduced caregiver’s burdens. Professor Davis also suggested that patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease should be offered vitamin E supplements.

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