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B Vitamins Help Slow Process of Brain Atrophy in People With Memory Problems

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.


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

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

High Blood Pressure Linked To Memory Problems



High blood pressure is linked to memory problems in people over 45, according to research published in the print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study found that people with high diastolic blood pressure, which is the bottom number of a blood pressure reading, were more likely to

 have cognitive impairment, or problems with their memory and thinking skills, than people with normal diastolic readings.

For every 10 point increase in the reading, the odds of a person having cognitive problems was seven percent higher. The results were valid after adjusting for other factors that could affect cognitive abilities, such as age, smoking status, exercise level, education, diabetes or high cholesterol.

The study involved nearly 20,000 people age 45 and older across the country who participated in the Reasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study and had never had a stroke or mini-stroke. A total of 1,505 of the participants, or 7.6 percent, had cognitive problems, and 9,844, or 49.6 percent, were taking medication for high blood pressure. High blood pressure is defined as a reading equal to or higher than 140/90 or taking medication for high blood pressure.

“It’s possible that by preventing or treating high blood pressure, we could potentially prevent cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to dementia,” explained a research team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, including members of the American Academy of Neurology.

Research has shown that high diastolic blood pressure leads to weakening of small arteries in the brain, which can result in the development of small areas of brain damage.

They explained more research is needed to confirm the relationship between high blood pressure and cognitive impairment.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The REGARDS study is one of the largest population- based studies of risk factors for stroke. These latest data suggest that higher blood pressure may be a risk factor for cognitive decline, but further studies will be necessary to understand the cause-effect relationship.

The deputy director of the American Academy of Neurology noted “The National Institutes of Health is now organizing a large clinical trial to evaluate whether aggressive blood pressure lowering can decrease a number of important health outcomes including cognitive decline.”

Adapted from materials provided by American Academy of Neurology.

This article is for informational and educational purposes only; It is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your doctor or healthcare professional.

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