Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday has indicated that taking vitamin E supplements during the early stages of Alzheimer’s can slow the progression of cognitive decline symptoms.
Study researchers said they found the supplement allowed patients’ to maintain their ability to perform basic tasks by an average of about six months.
“It will be very interesting to see to what extent this will change practice,” study author Dr. Maurice Dysken told Reuters. “I think it will, but we’ll have to see how people in the field such as providers view the findings and patients too.”
Previous research had revealed that the vitamin hampered the disease’s progression in people with a moderately severe Alzheimer’s. However, vitamin E had not been shown to be an effective treatment for people with a pre-Alzheimer’s condition called mild cognitive impairment.
For the new study, the researchers recruited over 610 volunteers between August 2007 and March 2012 from 14 Veterans Affairs medical centers. Participants were arbitrarily assigned to one of four groups.
One group took a daily supplement containing 2,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin E. A second group received the Alzheimer’s medication memantine. A third group took both the supplement and the drug and the final group took a placebo.
After an average of approximately 2.3 years, the study team found that only the group taking the daily supplements showed a slower decline in the ability to perform daily tasks such as bathing or dressing themselves compared to the placebo group.
“I think it’s a well done study, but I think the results are modest,” said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic. He noted that a previous study showed higher risk of death among people taking vitamin E and effect that was not seen in the new JAMA study.
“Nevertheless, it’s out there and it’s published,” he said. “You have to let people know it could be a small risk.”
The researchers warned that their study shouldn’t be seen as way of preventing Alzheimer’s.
“This is not a prevention trial,” Dysken said. “We were enrolling patients with a diagnosis and what we’re looking at is slowing the rate of progression. It does not stop it.”
In an editorial published alongside the study, a trio of experts agreed that the study simply showed a modest way to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
“Considering the difficulties inherent in trying to treat rather than prevent very high-prevalence diseases and the limitations thus far of the therapeutic efforts for people with AD, shifting to more emphasis on prevention seems warranted,” they wrote.
“I think this is an example that we’re really doing research across the entire spectrum of the disease,” the experts added.
One of the editorial authors, Dr. Denis Evans of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said he was considering mentioning the study to his patients as something with which they could consider supplementing their regular treatment regimen.
“I think a six-month delay will be meaningful for many – if not most – patients,” Dysken said. “But it really does depend on the conversation that needs to be had between patient and primary care provider.”