Vitamin E, Treating Alzheimer’s Disease

Contact: Amanda Nelson

 

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Vitamin E trials in Alzheimer’s disease patients have shown a slight slowing effect on disease progression, Markesbery said. There are many studies in tissue culture that indicate vitamin E is effective in protecting neurons and a study in a transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease showed that it inhibits amyloid deposition, a deleterious protein in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 15, 2004) -- A University of Kentucky researcher says a recent study suggesting that high doses of vitamin E pose a risk should not stop patients from using the vitamin to help prevent the onset or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a dreadful disease for which there is no cure,” said Dr. William Markesbery, director, University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. “We do everything possible to slow the progression of the disease, but its eventual course is inevitable. For those at high risk of developing the disease, prevention is the key and vitamin E, in conjunction with vitamin C plus folic acid and selenium, have potential as possibly effective tools in preventing or slowing the onset and progression of the disease.”

Dr. Markesbery has more than 25 years of experience in clinical care and research in Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, studies by investigators at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and by other investigators have clearly demonstrated that oxidative damage by free radicals is important in the pathogenesis of neuron death in Alzheimer’s disease. More recent studies have shown that oxidative damage is present in the earliest detectable stage of Alzheimer’s disease, called Mild Cognitive Impairment.

Vitamin E trials in Alzheimer’s disease patients have shown a slight slowing effect on disease progression, Markesbery said. There are many studies in tissue culture that indicate vitamin E is effective in protecting neurons and a study in a transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease showed that it inhibits amyloid deposition, a deleterious protein in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease.

Markesbery said the recent study in question, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, may prompt patients and doctors to consider discontinuing or lowering the vitamin E dosages used in treatment of Alzheimer’s disease or its prevention.

The Johns Hopkins study was an examination of multiple studies from several countries performed in the past and does not represent a new trial or study. Some of the conclusions in the article were based on small studies, Markesbery said.

Moreover, the Johns Hopkins analysis demonstrated no harmful effect of vitamin E usage at doses of 400 units per day. In the one Alzheimer’s disease study cited in the Johns Hopkins study, there were an equal number of deaths in the control group not taking vitamin E (placebo) and in the Alzheimer group taking vitamin E. These individuals took 2,000 units of vitamin E daily for two years.

While these are not the dosages UK researchers are now recommending, it is important to remember that to obtain high levels of vitamin E in the brain, a higher dose than the daily recommended intake of 22.5 units is needed.

Clearly, more studies are needed with regard to vitamin E, especially in its role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, Markesbery said. Sanders-Brown is involved in a large human trial to prevent Alzheimer’s disease using 400 units/day of vitamin E in more than 4,500 healthy men over the age of 60.

The Johns Hopkins study included the analysis of some studies of vitamin E use in chronic diseases, and they indicated that they could not draw conclusions from their findings and apply it to normal healthy adults.

In summary, Markesbery said, while the safety of patients is the primary concern of all physicians, it is important to not overreact to findings from one, limited study until more research is completed. “We believe vitamin E is a neuroprotective agent in conjunction with vitamin C and should be continued in modest doses by patients with Alzheimer's disease and those at high risk for the disease,” Markesbery said.


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