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Vitamin E slows Alzheimer’s disease progression, decreases caregiver burden

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As a growing number of Baby Boomers reach the age of 65, concern for preserving mental function and avoiding cognitive diseases among this aging population is increasing. This concern is justified considering the fact that one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s, costing more than $203 billion annually in the United States caring for those with the disease. A study appearing in the January 1, 2014 edition of JAMA provides a glimmer of hope for those suffering from this disease, suggesting vitamin E slows disease progression.

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that results in the loss of mental function and memory. The changes in cognitive function are considerable enough to interfere with normal daily activities and frequently affect family members. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that more than 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care was provided by caregivers in 2012.

Vitamin E is the collective name for a group of fat-soluble antioxidants with varying levels of biological activity. It has been the subject of research for a number of health conditions including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and eye disorders.

While previous research surrounding vitamin E and Alzheimer’s disease has been mixed, the current study is one of the largest and longest to investigate vitamin E’s effectiveness against Alzheimer’s. The study’s results are promising and suggest that vitamin E slowed functional decline and reduced the amount of time caregivers devoted to assisting those with the disease.

Maurice W. Dysken, MD, of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, and colleagues studied the safety and efficacy of vitamin E in combination with or versus memantine — a drug used for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s — and placebo. A total of 613 patients from 14 Veterans Affairs medical centers were divided into four groups. The first group received 2,000 IU of vitamin E daily, group two received 20 mg per day of memantine, a third group received both vitamin E and memantine and the final group received a placebo.

Over the average follow up time of 2.3 years, the study authors evaluated functional decline via the Alzheimer’s Diseases Cooperative Study/Activities of Daily Living Inventory score.

What the researchers observed was that the functional decline among the vitamin E group was decreased by 19 percent per year when compared to placebo — equivalent to a 6.2 month delay in disease progression the study states. These findings suggest patient quality of life and disease costs could be reduced by supplementing with vitamin E.

Interestingly, the administration of memantine alone or in combination with vitamin E showed no clinical benefit, bringing into question the effectiveness of memantine.

In addition, the study reported a reduction of about 2 hours per day in the amount of time spent caring for patients, which could decrease caregiver burden and improve caregiver quality of life as well.

The vitamin E was well-tolerated, while adverse events were commonly reported in the memantine and combination groups. Contrary to a 2005 meta-analysis of vitamin E that concluded high doses of vitamin E increased all-cause mortality, this study found no significant increase in mortality among the vitamin E group. The annual mortality rate among the vitamin E group was 7.3 percent compared to 9.4 percent among the placebo group.

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