Vitamin E found to slow decline in people with mild Alzheimer's

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NEW YORK — Vitamin E can help slow the effects of mild to moderate forms of Alzheimer's disease, a finding doctors should consider for treating patients, researchers said.

Patients given high doses of vitamin E for about two years delayed progression of the degenerative brain disease by about 6.2 months, compared with those given a placebo, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Doctors may want to discuss vitamin E as an option in early-stage Alzheimer's treatments, the researchers said.

Vitamin E acts like an antioxidant, which may prevent or delay cell damage, and boost the immune system. The new study builds on findings that showed vitamin E seemed to slow disease progression in patients with moderately severe Alzheimer's and is the first to show it may help stall functional decline in those with milder forms, said Maurice Dysken, the lead author.

"A delay in six months over two years, that's very meaningful to some patients and caregivers," Dysken, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, said in a Dec. 27 telephone interview.

Dysken, who is a former director of the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, added that his study "does not address whether vitamin E will prevent Alzheimer's disease in people who don't have the diagnosis."

The study looked at 613 veterans who were given vitamin E, a combination of vitamin E and Forest Laboratories's Namenda for moderate to severe Alzheimer's, Namenda alone or placebo. The vitamin E used in the study was about 20 times greater than the dosage usually found in a multivitamin.

All patients in the trial were on some type of Alzheimer's medication, such as Eisai's Aricept or Johnson & Johnson's Razadyne. The main outcome was how well patients could perform activities of daily living.

They found that vitamin E slowed the worsening of the disease by 19 percent a year compared with placebo. The research also showed those who took care of patients taking vitamin E were able to spend less time caregiving compared with those taking Namenda alone.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, a number projected to triple by 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Vitamin E is naturally found in a variety of foods including wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, spinach and broccoli. Though some research has linked vitamin E with an increased risk of death, cancer and stroke, no safety issues were seen in the study published on Tuesday.

Denis Evans, a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who wrote an accompanying editorial, said the results of the study are "modest" like many trials looking at Alzheimer's and more research in preventing the disease is needed.

The finding "probably represents something roughly like the ceiling of our current ability to study the disease," he said in a telephone interview. "That raises the issue of whether we should be looking more at prevention of the disease than treatment of the disease. We should probably emphasize prevention more."