From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Vitamin B may help ward off Alzheimer's

Slows brain shrinkage

Taking vitamin B may help to slow the onset of Alzheimer's, scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Oxford found that taking a large daily dose of vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid in a single pill reduced brain shrinkage by more than 30 per cent in elderly people with mild memory problems.

One in six people over the age of 70 has mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is a major risk factor for Alzheimer's, and experience problems with memory, speech and other mental functions. Around half of people with MCI go on to develop Alzheimer's within five years of being diagnosed with the condition.

The scientists looked at the effect of high doses of B vitamins on 270 men and women aged 70 and over with MCI, and measured changes in their cognitive function over a two year period.

Some B vitamins are known to control levels of the amino acid, homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's.

The study participants were given either a pill containing 0.5mg of vitamin B12, 20mg of vitamin B6 and 0.5 mg of folic acid or a placebo (dummy) pill. They also undertook cognitive tests throughout the two years, and their brains were scanned at the start and end of the study.

At the end of the two years, those who were taking the high dose of B vitamins had 30 per cent less brain shrinkage compared to those who took the placebo.

People with the highest levels of homocysteine in their blood at the start of the study appeared to benefit most from the vitamin treatment, as they had up to 50 per cent less brain shrinkage compared to those in the placebo group.

The study findings were presented by neuropsychologist, Dr Celeste de Jager at the British Science Festival yesterday.

Dr de Jager said: "The higher the homocysteine level in the blood, the better the response was on treatment.

"We need more research to show that we can actually decline to dementia."

A spokesperson for the Alzheimer's Society said: "We all know it’s important to get enough vitamins, and these interesting studies add weight to the argument that vitamin B is good for our brains.

"However, people shouldn't rush out and empty the shelves of vitamin B tablets. More research is needed to establish whether it has benefits for people without existing memory problems, and if it could prevent dementia.

"The best way to reduce your risk of dementia is to take regular exercise and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. It’s also important to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly."

This article was published on Wed 14 September 2011