January 31, 2014
An intriguing new study suggests that vitamin E supplements may be helpful to patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Those who took the vitamin were better able to carry out activities like getting dressed, bathing and having a meal than those given lookalike placebo pills.
In the study, vitamin E did not seem to have an effect on memory or thinking skills. But the vitamin – taken at a dose of 2,000 IUs a day – did seem to improve the ability of people in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s to care for themselves.
The researchers estimate that the improvements allowed those with Alzheimer’s to care for themselves for about two extra hours per day – time that would not require help from caregivers. The findings appeared in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.
For the study, researchers looked at more than 600 elderly veterans, mostly men, who were receiving care at one of 14 Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country. Their mean age was 78, and all had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
All were also already taking a drug for early to moderate Alzheimer’s. More than half were taking donepezil (brand name Aricept), about a third were taking galantamine (Razadyne), and a few were taking rivastigmine (Exelon).
The study participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups. One group got 2,000 IU’s of vitamin E daily. Another group got vitamin E along with memantine (Namenda), a drug typically given for moderate to severe dementia, at a dose of 20 milligrams a day. Other groups got memantine plus placebo, or just placebo.
After a follow-up period of about two years, those in all four groups showed declines in memory and the ability to carry out everyday activities. But those taking vitamin E alone scored higher on tests designed to measure activities of daily living than those taking a placebo. The benefits translated to about a six-month delay in disease progression. Those who were taking vitamin E with memantine, or memantine alone, did not see the same benefits.
Earlier research suggests that vitamin E may have benefits for those with more advanced Alzheimer’s, but this was the first time is was studied in those with early disease. The researchers stress that more study is needed to determine whether the vitamin is truly effective in mild Alzheimer’s.
Vitamin E has also been tested in those with mild cognitive impairment, a serious form of memory loss that can progress to Alzheimer’s disease. But vitamin E showed no benefits in those with mild cognitive impairment or in preventing progression to full-blown Alzheimer’s. Vitamin E has also not been shown to improve memory in healthy people who do not have memory problems.
Vitamin E is known as a potent antioxidant, though scientists are unsure why it may provide benefits for those with Alzheimer’s. In some earlier studies, high doses of the vitamin were linked to an increased risk of dying, but those taking vitamin E in this study actually showed a lower death rate.
Source: Maurice W. Dysken, MD; Mary Sano, PhD; Sanjay Asthana, MD; et al: Effect of Vitamin E and Memantine on Functional Decline in Alzheimer Disease: The TEAM-AD VA Cooperative Randomized Trial. JAMA Vol. 311, No. 1, January 1, 2014.
Denis A. Evans, MD; Martha Clare Morris, ScD; Kumar Bharat Rajan, PhD: Vitamin E, Memantine, and Alzheimer Disease (editorial). JAMA Vol. 311, No. 1, January 1, 2014.