Vitamin B pill protects against Alzheimer'sHalves brain shrinkage in those with initial symptoms
A daily dose of vitamin B given to people with mild symptoms of mental decline can halve the rate of shrinkage of their brains - a key indicator of the possible onset of Alzheimer's disease - a study has found.
The effect was produced by giving study participants a daily pill containing concentrations of the B vitamins folate, B6 and B12 at much higher rates than the recommended daily allowance.
While vitamins in high dosages can be toxic, the study found no negative side-effects. Vitamin B is found in foods such as bananas, meat, beans and whole grains.
The research could potentially lead to the development of a low cost treatment for mild cognitive impairment.
About the study
In the study, 168 patients showing mild signs of mental decline were divided into two groups. One group received the vitamin pills and the other a placebo. Over a two year period the rate of brain shrinkage in the patients was measured using MRI scans.
Vitamin B was selected because it can reduce the effects of an amino acid called homocysteine on the brain - higher levels of homocysteine in the brain have been linked to faster rates of brain shrinkage.
Overall the study found that those patients who received the vitamin B pills had a 30% reduction in brain shrinkage, and those patients who had the highest levels of homocysteine at the start of the trial saw a 53% reduction compared to those who received the placebo pill.
Study author Professor David Smith, of the Oxford Project to investigate Memory and Ageing, said: "It's a bigger effect than anyone could have predicted... and it's telling us something biological."
"These vitamins are doing something to the brain structure - they're protecting it, and that's very important because we need to protect the brain to prevent Alzheimer's," Dr Smith added.
More work needed
Professor Clive Ballard, Director of Research of the Alzheimer’s Society, cautioned that more research is needed: "Previous studies looking at B vitamins have been very disappointing and we wouldn’t want to raise people’s expectations yet, as we have not specifically seen any benefits in preventing the onset of the symptoms of dementia."
Dr Ballard pointed out that the study only looked at those with existing symptoms, and that no beneficial effects had yet been found in people with normal levels of homocysteine.
However, Dr Ballard said the results do support current advice: "We know that the best way to reduce your risk of dementia is to ensure that you eat a healthy and balanced diet containing fruit and vegetables."
The study is published in the online journal PLoS ONE.
This article was published on Thu 9 September 2010
Image © Sebastian Kaulitzki - Fotolia.com
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