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Vitamin E May Up Alzheimer's Survival

Study Shows High Doses of Vitamin E May Lower Death Rate for Alzheimer's Patients
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 15, 2008 -- Vitamin E may help patients with Alzheimer's live longer, and the benefit may be even greater for those who take the supplements along with an anti-dementia drug, a new study shows. 

Many have questioned whether antioxidants, including vitamin E, can protect brain cells and thwart Alzheimer's-related memory loss. Research has previously demonstrated that vitamin E can slow the progression of moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease. 

The new findings, presented at the 60th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Chicago, suggest that the benefits of vitamin E for Alzheimer's may be greater than once thought.

"We've been able to show that vitamin E appears to increase the survival time of Alzheimer's patients," researcher Valory Pavlik, PhD, with Baylor College of Medicine's Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center, says in a news release. "This is particularly important because recent studies in heart disease patients have questioned whether vitamin E is beneficial for survival."

Pavlik's study involved 847 Alzheimer's patients, mostly female, who averaged about 73 and a half years old at their first research visit. A follow-up visit showed that most patients took vitamin E along with a cholinesterase inhibitor, a class of anti-dementia medicine that inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain that is thought to play a key role in learning and remembering. Among the remaining patients, about 15% did not take a cholinesterase inhibitor, and fewer than 10% took vitamin E alone.

After a median of five years of follow-up, Pavlik's analysis showed that those who took 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin E daily -- with or without an anti-dementia drug -- were 26% less likely to die than those who did not during the study period (1990-2004).

"The study found vitamin E plus a cholinesterase inhibitor may be more beneficial than taking either agent alone," says Pavlik.

Those who took an anti-dementia drug alone had no improved survival benefit. Pavlik acknowledges that more research needs to be done.

The twice-a-day dose of 1,000 IU of vitamin E taken by the study patients greatly exceeds the dose recommended as safe for the general population. 

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