Despite the occasional negative publicity surrounding vitamin E, this nutrient has proven itself time and again to be one amazing antioxidant. Case in point: Research published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that vitamin E can help slow functional decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease.1
This development is particularly significant since no cure for Alzheimer’s exists—only treatments to slow the progression of the disease. Currently, two main classes of drugs are approved for Alzheimer’s treatment: cholinesterase inhibitors (such as Aricept®, Exelon® and Razadyne®) and memantine (Namenda®).
These drugs may treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s—like memory loss and problems with reasoning—but they also have their fair share of troublesome side effects, including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, increased bowel movements, headache and dizziness.
Researchers have found, however, that vitamin E may actually work better than certain conventional treatments in slowing cognitive decline.
In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, investigators wanted to determine the effectiveness of vitamin E, mematine or a combination of the two in slowing the progression of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease in patients already taking a cholinesterase inhibitor like Aricept®.
Participants received 2,000 IU vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) per day, 20 mg memantine per day, a combination of the two or a placebo.
At the end of the five-year study period, the researchers analyzed data from 561 of the participants (140 taking vitamin E, 142 taking memantine, 139 using the combination treatment and 140 on placebo). They found that the group given the vitamin E had a delay in clinical progression of the disease of 19 percent per year (in other words, a delay of 6.2 months) compared to the placebo group.
In addition, those in the vitamin E group did not demand increased attention from caregivers.
More importantly, contrary to other studies that have implicated vitamin E as the cause of increased mortality—especially at higher doses2-3—this study actually concluded that vitamin E has a good safety profile, with greater death frequency in the groups that took the memantine or the vitamin E/memantine combination than the vitamin E group.
In conclusion, the researchers wrote that, among patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, “2,000 IU/day of alpha tocopherol compared with placebo resulted in slower functional decline. There were no significant differences in the groups receiving memantine alone or memantine plus alpha tocopherol. These findings suggest benefit of alpha tocopherol in mild to moderate Alzheimers disease by slowing functional decline and decreasing caregiver burden.”
This isn’t the first study to praise vitamin E’s brain-protective powers. Another study showed that people with the highest plasma levels of total vitamin E, total tocopherols and total tocotrienols had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to those with the lowest levels.4
Specifically, people with the highest plasma total vitamin E or total tocopherols had a 45 percent decreased risk of developing the disease, and those with the highest total tocotrienols had a 54 percent reduction in risk, as compared to people with the lowest levels.
Is E an Option for You?
Only a qualified medical professional—ideally one with vast knowledge in nutritional supplementation—can determine whether or not high doses of vitamin E would be appropriate for you or your loved one with Alzheimer’s.
The recommended daily allowance for healthy adults is a meager 22.4 IU, but tolerable upper intake levels go as high as 1,500 IU.5 The JAMA study used 2,000 IU. For general brain and memory health/maintenance, 400 IU per day should suffice.
In many cases, the risks of disease progression far outweigh any potential risks of taking high doses of certain drugs or supplements—but only you and your doctor can make that determination. But, as this study shows, vitamin E offers great promise, and its potential should not be ignored.
- Dysken MW, et al. JAMA. 2014 Jan 1;311(1):33-44.
- Miller ER 3rd, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2005 Jan 4;142(1):37-46.
- Boothby LA and Doering PL. Ann Pharmacother. 2005 Dec;39(12):2073-80.
- Mangialasche F, et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(4):1029-37.
- Institute of Medicine. http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/4_%20UL%20Values_Vitamins%20and%20Elements.pdf.
SOURCE: Larissa Long
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