September 9, 2010

Vitamin B May Help Combat Alzheimer’s Disease

Oxford University scientists have found that B vitamins could help slow down brain atrophy and stave off Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the elderly.

The researchers, including co-lead author and Oxford Department of Pharmacology Professor David Smith, conducted a two-year double-blind clinical trial to study the effects of the B vitamins on Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) in 168 volunteers, all of whom were described as having mild memory problems. Half of the participants took high-dosage Vitamin B tablets over the period of the trial, while the remaining subjects were given a placebo.

According to a September 8 press release published on the website of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, a UK-based research firm that sponsored the study, "The researchers found that on average the brains of those taking the folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 treatment shrank at a rate of 0.76% a year, while those in the placebo group had a mean brain shrinkage rate of 1.08%."

"The team suggests that, since the rate of brain shrinkage is known to be more rapid in those with MCI who go on to develop Alzheimer's, it is possible that the vitamin treatment could slow down the development of the disease," the organization also notes.

"It is our hope that this simple and safe treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer's disease in many people who suffer from mild memory problems," Smith said on the Alzheimer's Research Trust website, noting that more than five million Americans and 14 million Europeans currently suffer from some form of cognitive difficulty.

"These are immensely promising results but we do need to do more trials to conclude whether these particular B vitamins can slow or prevent development of Alzheimer's. So I wouldn't yet recommend that anyone getting a bit older and beginning to be worried about memory lapses should rush out and buy vitamin B supplements without seeing a doctor," he added.

It has already been determined that B vitamins control levels of an amino acid known as homcysteine. Likewise, elevated homocysteine levels in the blood are believed to be linked to a greater risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

However, over the counter B vitamins might not be sufficient. According to what the researchers told Kate Kelland of Reuters, the pills used in the trial contained approximately 300-times the recommended daily levels of B12, as well as four times the recommended dosage of folic acid and 15-times the B6 levels that experts suggest be consumed daily.

Along with Smith, the research team included Oxford and University of Oslo researchers Stephen M. Smith, Celeste A. de Jager, Philippa Whitbread, Carole Johnston, Grzegorz Agacinski, Abderrahim Oulhaj, Kevin M. Bradley, Robin Jacoby, and Helga Refsum. Their findings were published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One on Wednesday, September 8.


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