Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a degenerative brain disorder associated with progressive deterioration of memory and cognition. In North America, AD occurs in about 20% of individuals in the 75–84 years group and 42% people older than 84 years old. These numbers are striking when compared to data from the 1960s indicating an incidence of only 2% in people over the age of 85 years. The tremendous increase in AD in people over 85 years of age is often referred to as the “Alzheimer’s epidemic.”
Antioxidants are compounds that protect against cellular damage. Vitamin E is one of the key fat-soluble antioxidants in our body. Since, AD is the result of oxidative damage to many aspects of brain structure and function antioxidants like vitamin E may help protect against that damage. When brain cells are damaged it leads to the formation of a plaque like substance known as beta-amyloid. When beta-amyloid accumulates between brain cells it blocks the transmission of messages and ultimately leads to the death of brain cells and formation of lesions known as neurofibrillary tangles. These are the classic brain lesions of AD.
A new study published in the January 1, 2014 issue of JAMA showed that in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease, a daily dosage of 2,000 IU of vitamin E, compared to placebo, was effective in slowing functional decline and in reducing caregiver time in assisting patients.
The study is one of the largest and longest to track participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. It followed 561 patients, 97% of them men, from 14 Veterans Affairs medical centers around the country. Researchers tracked each subject for as little as six months and as long as four years after diagnosis with possible or probable Alzheimer’s disease of mild to moderate severity. The subjects received either 2000 IU/day of vitamin E, 20 mg/day of the drug memantine, the combination of vitamin E and memantine, or a placebo.
The results were quite clear in that compared with subjects in the other groups, vitamin E significantly delayed AD progression and the need for caregiver help. Neither memantine nor the combination of vitamin E and memantine showed clinical benefit in this trial. The lack of benefit with the combination therapy led researchers believe that the drug may disrupt or hinder the action of vitamin E.
Another benefit noted in the study suggests that the vitamin E may help people live longer as the annual mortality rate was 7.3 percent in the vitamin E group vs. 9.4 percent for the placebo group; 11.3% for the mementine group; and 9% for the combination group.
The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Maurice W. Dysken, stated in a press release: “For people who are in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, I think any delay in the rate of progression is meaningful and important.”
This latest study adds to the considerable evidence that diets that are high in antioxidant nutrients like vitamin E can help AD as well as age-related memory loss and other degenerative brain disorders. In addition to supplementing the diet with antioxidant nutrients like vitamin E it is very important to also boost the intake of dietary antioxidants by eating a diet rich green leafy vegetables; highly-colored vegetables such as carrots, yams, and squash; flavonoid-rich fruits like citrus, berries, and cherries; and taking advantage of the powerful antioxidant effects of herbs and spices.
Dysken MW, Sano M, Asthana S, et al. Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: the TEAM-AD VA cooperative randomized trial. JAMA. 2014 Jan 1;311(1):33-44.