Taking high doses of vitamin E appears to help people in all stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Research a decade ago showed that vitamin E was helpful in late-stage Alzheimer's disease. Now a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds the benefits extend to people with mild to moderate forms of the disease.
"This looks very promising," said lead researcher Mary Sano, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, both in New York City.
Vitamin E is far from a cure, only somewhat improving functional activities such as planning and organizing, the study found. But it did allow trial participants over the course of two years to get less help from caregivers and therefore retain more independence longer.
"It's not something where you must do this, it's going to make all the difference," said Rachelle Doody, director of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Still, Doody, who was not involved in the current study, said she thinks it's worthwhile for most Alzheimer's patients, in consultation with their doctor, to take 2,000 IU of vitamin E per day.
That amount far exceeds the government's recommended dose for healthy adults, which is 22.4 IU or 15 mg per day.
There is no indication that high doses of vitamin E help healthy adults, and research shows an increased risk of death with such high doses, particularly for people with congestive heart failure.
That's why Heather Snyder, director of Medical & Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer's Association, thinks that people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's should wait for more research before jumping to add vitamin E to their pill box.
The new study looked at patients in the Veteran's Affairs system, so they were virtually all male. It's not yet clear, Snyder said, that the benefits of vitamin E will be true for women as well.
It's also unclear why high doses of vitamin E would help people with Alzheimer's, Snyder said, so the association is funding research to uncover a possible mechanism.
Doody, who has done her own research into Alzheimer's and vitamin E, believes the vitamin is safe and life-extending for people with the memory disease.
The new study also examined a drug called memantine, which already is used to treat advanced Alzheimer's, but found no benefit to mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's patients from the drug alone or in connection with high doses of vitamin E.
Boosting the dose
Expert Rachelle Doody believes high doses of vitamin E can be beneficial to people suffering from Alzheimer's. Suggested daily dose:
2,000 IU: For Alzheimer's patients, in consultation with their doctor
22.4 IU: Current government-recommended daily dose for healthy adults
Image: Mario Tama, Getty Images
Copyright 2014 USA TODAY
Original headline: Vitamin E may help against Alzheimer's
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