An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Cure!

Daily supplements of B vitamins can reduce
the rate of brain shrinkage by 50% in elderly
people who suffer from mild memory problems,
an Oxford University study has shown.

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The two-year randomized clinical trial is the largest
to study the effect of B vitamins on mild cognitive
impairment, and one of the first disease-modifying
trials in the Alzheimer’s field to show positive results
in people.

Around 1 in 6 elderly people over the age of 70 has
mild cognitive impairment, experiencing problems with
memory, language, or other mental functions, but not to
a degree that interferes with daily life. Around half of
people with mild cognitive impairment go on to develop
dementia, mainly Alzheimer’s disease, within five years
of diagnosis.

Certain B vitamins including : folic acid, vitamin B6 and
vitamin B12  are known to control levels of the amino acid
homocysteine in the blood, and high levels of homocysteine
are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

The Oxford research team set out to see whether
supplements of the B vitamins that lower homocysteine
could slow the higher rate of brain shrinkage (atrophy)
observed in mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s.

The study followed 168 volunteers aged 70 or over with
mild memory problems, half of whom took high dose
B vitamin tablets for two years and the other half a placebo
tablet. The researchers assessed disease progression in
this group by using MRI scans to measure the brain atrophy
rate over a two-year period. The findings are published in
the journal PLoS ONE.

The team found that on average the brains of those taking
the folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 treatment shrank at a rate
of 0.76% a year, while those in the placebo group had a
mean brain shrinkage rate of 1.08%. People with the
highest levels of homocysteine benefited most, showing
atrophy rates on treatment that were half of those on
placebo.

Along with rate of brain shrinkage, the team from the
Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Aging (OPTIMA)
also monitored cognitive test scores, revealing that those
with the slowest rate of shrinkage scored more strongly.

The team suggests that, since the rate of brain atrophy
is known to be more rapid in those with mild cognitive
impairment who go on to develop Alzheimer’s, it is possible
that the vitamin treatment could slow down the development
of the disease. Clinical trials to test this should now be
carried out, they add.

“It is our hope that this simple and safe treatment will delay
the development of Alzheimer’s disease in many people
who suffer from mild memory problems,” said Professor
David Smith of the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford
University, a co-leader of the trial. “Today there are about
1.5 million elderly in UK, 5 million in USA and 14 million
in Europe with such memory problems.”

“’These are immensely promising results but we do need
to do more trials to conclude whether these particular
B vitamins can slow or prevent development of Alzheimer’s.
So I wouldn’t yet recommend that anyone getting a bit older
and beginning to be worried about memory lapses should
rush out and buy vitamin B supplements without seeing a
doctor,” the researchers said.

Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust,
Rebecca Wood  said: “These are very important results,
with B vitamins now showing a prospect of protecting
some people from Alzheimer’s in old age. The strong
findings must inspire an expanded trial to follow people
expected to develop Alzheimer’s, and we hope for
further success.

“We desperately need to support research into dementia,
to help avoid the massive increases of people living with
the condition as the population ages. Research is the
only answer to what remains the greatest medical
challenge of our time.”

Professor Chris Kennard, chair of the Medical Research
Council’s Neurosciences and Mental Health Board which
co-funded the study, said: “This MRC-funded trial brings
us a step closer to unravelling the complex neurobiology
of aging and cognitive decline, which holds the key to the
development of future treatments for conditions like
Alzheimer’s disease.

The findings are very encouraging and we look forward
to further research that is needed in order to test whether
B vitamins can be recommended as a suitable treatment.”

Story Source: University of Oxford.

Journal Reference:
“Homocysteine-Lowering by B Vitamins Slows the Rate
of Accelerated Brain Atrophy in Mild Cognitive Impairment:
A Randomized Controlled Trial.”
 PLoS ONE, 2010

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