Regular Beta-Carotene Intake
Throughout Middle Age May Benefit The Aging Brain
A recent study of people taking beta-carotene supplements analyzing the key potential benefits against cognitive decline demonstrates there are ways, through basic “health-minded” lifestyle modifications, that proper nutritional intake can help memory as people get older.
Most importantly, the findings also suggest beta-carotene may help keep the brain sharp if taken regularly as a supplement for many years.
Results of the placebo-controlled study of 5,956 men were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston reported that men who took beta–carotene supplements every other day for an average 18 years scored much better in cognitive testing than those taking a placebo.
They scored especially well on verbal memory. However, those in a shorter-term test who averaged only one year of supplementation, did not demonstrate a similar benefit.
“Men who took beta-carotene for a mean of 18 years had about the same degree of cognitive function as men one year younger,” the researchers explained. “In other words, if you take beta-carotene for 18 years, you delay cognitive aging for about one year.”
They also said that women would likely see a similar long-term benefit. The researchers suggested that beta carotene might help delay the effects of aging on cognitive abilities by counter-acting oxidative damage in the brain.
“In this generally healthy population, the extent of protection conferred by long-term treatment appeared modest,” they noted. “Nonetheless, studies have established that very modest differences in cognition (especially verbal memory) predict substantial differences in eventual risk of dementia.”
The long-term group in the study included 4,052 participants in the Physicians Health Study who began taking supplements or placebo in 1982. Between 1998 and 2001, an additional 1,904 men were randomly assigned to one of the two groups.
Both groups were followed through 2003, completing yearly questionnaires about their health and their compliance with taking the supplement. The men were assessed for cognitive function at least once between 1998 and 2002, then evaluated at the study’s conclusion using a set of five cognitive tests.
Beta-carotene’s benefits against the ravages of cognitive decline surpassed those of other medications tested in healthy older people, making it worthy of continued study.
Archives of Internal Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital Boston, MA
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