Do Vitamins and Supplements Help With Alzheimer's?

When you or someone you love has Alzheimer’s, you may be open to any and all possible ways to treat it and keep it from getting worse. Because there’s no cure, and a pretty limited number of medications you can take, you might be thinking about what vitamins and supplements can do.

No doubt about it: Good nutrition helps you from head to toe. But there are no vitamins or supplements proven to prevent, stop, or slow down Alzheimer’s.

The foods you eat do matter for your brain health, and they’re the best way to get nutrients. If you’re looking to try supplements, tell your doctor first to make sure that they’re not likely to have side effects or cause problems with any other medicines you take.

Antioxidants

These nutrients protect your body from molecules called “free radicals” that damage cells and can cause cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

There are a lot of different antioxidants, like beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and resveratrol. They are in plant foods, such as berries, greens, tea, and bell peppers.

Free radicals tend to build up in nerve cells as we get older. Studies on the brains of people with Alzheimer’s have found signs of oxidative stress, which means that the body has been trying to fight free radical damage. So getting more antioxidants would seem to be a good thing.

But there is no easy answer, at least not yet.

The antioxidant connection is a hot area in Alzheimer’s research, but everyone agrees that more still needs to be done. Researchers aren’t sure if some antioxidants are better than others, and it’s possible that it might be better to get your antioxidants from food instead of from supplements.

Resveratrol

You can get this antioxidant from red grapes, red wine, peanuts, and some dark chocolate. Some researchers think is has anti-aging properties, and can lower your risk of certain diseases.

Scientists have thought for a while that resveratrol might be able to protect your brain from the effects of Alzheimer’s. A recent study showed that daily doses of resveratrol did slow down the progress of the disease.

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That study is promising, but it doesn’t prove that resveratrol fights Alzheimer’s. The people in the study took a really strong dose of resveratrol that isn’t available to the public -- 1 gram of it contains as much resveratrol as 1,000 bottles of red wine. But the study authors say it did show that resveratrol is safe to take if you have Alzheimer’s.

Plus, scientists need to see a lot of studies before they draw conclusions one way or the other. And some research shows that a diet loaded with resveratrol might not mean better health after all.

Vitamin D

One of vitamin D’s jobs is to help the brain. Most of us get our vitamin D from the sun and from foods like fatty fish, cheese, and egg yolks. But it’s also available over the counter as a supplement.

There’s a link between vitamin D and Alzheimer’s. A number of studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s have low vitamin D levels. One study found people with very low vitamin D were twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s.

But, there’s so much left to learn about the connection between vitamin D and Alzheimer’s. We don’t know if low vitamin D causes Alzheimer’s. We also don’t know if taking vitamin D can treat or prevent the disease.

A lot more research has to be done before doctors will start prescribing vitamin D for Alzheimer’s. But, the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation does list it as “very safe” for you to take as a supplement.

Ginkgo Biloba

You may have heard of ginkgo biloba as a memory aid -- and maybe something that sounds like it could help you with Alzheimer’s. And researchers have studied it over the years. But so far, they haven’t found any proof that it improves memory at all, even in people who don’t have Alzheimer’s.

Ginkgo has been shown to cause other side effects, including bleeding, lowering blood sugar, and altering blood pressure. So it may be best to avoid completely.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on August 04, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation.

Woztunik-Kulesza, K. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, March 2016.

Turner, S. Neurology, published online Sept. 11, 2015.

Georgetown University Medical Center.

Soni, M. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation, 2012.

Miller, J. Journal of the American Medical Association, Neurology, 2015.

Littlejohns, T. Neurology, published online Aug. 6, 2014.

Mayo Clinic: “Ginkgo biloba: Can it prevent memory loss?” “Safety.”

National Institutes of Health, NIH Director’s Blog: “Revisiting Resveratrol’s Health Claims.”

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