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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

Antioxidants Fight Alzheimer's

Antioxidants Fight Alzheimer's
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June 25, 2002 -- Put broccoli quiche, peanut butter toast, and orange juice on the breakfast table. A diet rich in vitamins C and E -- not vitamin supplements -- seems to prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to two new studies.

A growing body of evidence points to damage from free radicals as the cause of Alzheimer's disease. Free radicals -- byproducts of our bodies' normal functions -- can cause damage to cells, leading to cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.

The new studies appear in the June 26 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta carotene are among the body's natural defense mechanisms against this damage. Important sources of vitamin E are grains, nuts, milk, and egg yolk. Vitamin C is mainly found in citrus fruits, kiwi, sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage. Beta carotene is found in kale, carrots, broccoli, and spinach.

The first study followed more than 5,000 men and women -- all at least 55 years old -- for an average of six years. None had any signs of dementia at the beginning of the study. Six years later, 197 had developed dementia; 146 of them had Alzheimer's disease.

"High intake of vitamin C and vitamin E was associated with lower risk of Alzheimer's disease," writes researcher Marianne J. Engelbert, MD, MSc, epidemiologist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Among smokers, this relationship was most pronounced; for them, beta carotene and flavonoids -- another type of antioxidant -- also seemed to have a protective effect. Those with genetic predisposition for Alzheimer's did not get any more or less protection from the vitamins.

The second study followed 815 Chicago area residents, all 65 and over, for about four years. That study suggests that vitamin E from food -- but not other antioxidants -- reduces risk of Alzheimer's.

However, the protective effect was only found among people who did not have the apoE4gene -- a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer's; a total of 131 persons developed Alzheimer's during the four-year study period.

"Surprisingly, neither study identified an association between [Alzheimer's disease] and use of vitamin E and vitamin C supplements," writes Daniel J. Foley, MS, an epidemiologist with the National Institute on Aging, in an accompanying editorial.

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