Vitamin B and Alzheimer’s

Brain shrinkage and atrophy is a natural part of aging but it is also known to be accelerated in people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a type of memory loss and forgetfulness, and Alzheimer’s.

Scientists at the University of Oxford found that taking high doses of three vitamin B supplements every day reduced brain shrinkage associated with dementia by over 50 per cent. The results were so promising that it should open up a debate as to whether the vitamins should be prescribed to everyone with MCI, half of whom develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor David Smith, a pharmacologist who co-authored the study, said the results were “immensely promising.” He followed by saying, “It is a very simple solution: you give someone some vitamins and you protect the brain. This is the first trial that has shown a glimmer of hope and success. It is the first one of its kind that has worked so clearly. I think it will change the whole direction of Alzheimer’s research.”

The research, published in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, is controversial because it defies current scientific dogma about the way to tackle Alzheimer’s. It suggests simply taking vitamins can achieve results that have so far evaded pharmaceutical companies, despite millions of dollars being spent on experimental dementia drugs.

The team at the University of Oxford knew that a substance called homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood, was associated with brain shrinkage. Elderly people with higher levels of homocysteine, had higher levels of brain shrinkage. They also knew that vitamin B regulated levels of homocysteine and that the more vitamin B in the blood, the lower the harmful levels of the amino acid.

The researchers used an advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique to study brain shrinkage in volunteers over the age of 70 with diagnosed MCI. Over a period of two years, half were given a daily tablet containing high doses of the B vitamins folic acid, B6 and B12. The rest received a “dummy” placebo pill with no active ingredients. The scientists stress that the doses of B vitamins used in the trial are much higher than would be obtained from diets and additives or normal health supplements.

At the end of the trial the effects of the vitamin treatment were found to be dramatic, and most pronounced in participants who started out with the highest rates of brain shrinkage. That is, the best results were seen in the patients with the most degeneration.

Professor Helga Refsum, his co-author at University of Oslo who is a visiting academic at Oxford, said more trials were needed but the evidence was strong. “As a scientist I am not happy with just one trial and there will be a large debate. But as a clinician sitting in front of a patient I would say vitamin B supplements are fairly safe, they are not expensive and what we have found here is extremely convincing. It is very difficult to argue against its use.” Anybody thinking of taking them should consult their doctor first.

This research is further proof of the major role nutritional deficiencies play in many of the degenerative diseases that currently plague people in America. This kind of science brings renewed hope for the people suffering from the myriad of maladies that afflict our population. Much more hope than the empty promises of cures that never materialize.

This information appeared in the U.K. Telegraph on September 9, 2010 in the Health News Section

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