Vitamin B Alzheimer’s: Can Inexpensive Supplements Delay Dementia?
A regimen of Vitamin B may be the key to delaying Alzheimer's disease, researchers have shown in an encouraging new study.
The study, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, argues that a healthy diet, regular exercise and consuming vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid were the key to slowing atrophy of gray matter in the brain. The inexpensive drug cocktail lowers levels of homocysteine, a protein amino acid that shrinks the brain and results in dementia such as Alzheimer's.
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In the study, researchers tracked 156 people ages 70 and up who had both mild memory loss and high levels of homocysteine. The patients that took the Vitamin B regimen had 90 percent less brain shrinkage than those that took a placebo.
"It's the first and only disease-modifying treatment that's worked," said A. David Smith, professor emeritus of pharmacology at Oxford University in England and senior author of the study. "We have proved the concept that you can modify the disease."
Paul Thompson, head of the Imaging Genetics Center at UCLA School of Medicine, was similarly impressed with the vitamin B Alzheimer's results.
"I've never seen results from brain scans showing this level of protection," said Thompson, whose Genetics Center has the world's largest database of brain scans. "We study the brain effects of all sorts of lifestyle changes -- alcohol reduction, exercising more, learning to handle stress, weight loss -- and a good result would be a 25 percent reduction in shrinkage."
But experts cautioned, as they tend to do, about drawing too many conclusions from one study.
"It is too early to know whether these effects mean someone is less likely to develop dementia in the long term," Dr. Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said. "It is also not clear from other research in this area whether B vitamins would have any benefit for those who already have dementia."
He added, "Until further trials have confirmed these findings, we would recommend people think about eating a healthy and balanced diet. Controlling weight and blood pressure, as well as taking exercise, are also ways that we can help to keep our brains healthy as we get older."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, five million Americans live with the disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. In a 2010 report, the AA found that the costs related to Alzheirmer's and similar dementias is $604 billion. If the dementia care market was a company, the report notes, it would have revenue $200 billion larger than Wal-Mart.
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