Dr. Mary Sano (right) and a Mount Sinai research team found patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s can benefit from taking vitamin E.
There’s still no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but the latest hope for slowing its progression is already on drugstore shelves.
Vitamin E shows promise in delaying functional decline by up to 19% per year in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, according to researchers at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine.
In a study published online Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that patients who took a daily 2,000 IU dose of alpha-tocepherol — the fat-soluble form of vitamin E that’s also found in foods like spinach, broccoli and almonds — were able to maintain activities such as cooking, shopping and paying bills at a higher level than those who took a placebo. Their caregivers also reported spending less time helping with these tasks.
Previous research has shown high doses of vitamin E, in conjunction with other Alzheimer’s medications, can slow decline in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, but this is the first randomized clinical trial to demonstrate a benefit in those in earlier stages of disease, said lead study author Dr. Mary Sano, professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai.
The results suggest the low-cost treatment should be considered “across a broad range of patients with Alzheimer’s,” Sano, who is also director of research at the James J. Peters Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in the Bronx, told the Daily News. “It suggests functional benefits may be seen even in mild patients.”
The study followed 613 Alzheimer’s patients who were receiving treatment through Veterans Affairs medical centers, but still living independently. The average age of participants was 79 and they were treated through the study for an average of two years.
Taking vitamin E helped those with Alzheimer’s complete ‘functional activities’ — such as cooking, shopping and paying bills — at a higher level than those who received a placebo.
Researchers also examined the effects of memantine, a class of drugs approved for treating moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, but didn’t see an improvement in patients with mild Alzheimer’s who took memantine or memantine plus vitamin E compared to the placebo group.
But those who took vitamin E alone “were declining slower and functional abilities were remaining longer,” giving them a 6.2 month benefit over the other patients during the study period, Sano said. That translates to a 19% per year delay in the progression of the disease.
While vitamin E appeared to help these patients perform so-called “functional activities,” it didn’t help them retain memory or other cognitive function.
Still, the results provide hope to the estimated 5.1 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, as well as those who take care of them — often family members or close friends.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s, “any positive development is encouraging,” said Barry Fruchtman, an Upper East Side resident whose wife, Carolyn, was diagnosed a year ago.
“Six months is a very significant thing,” Fruchtman added. “When you’re faced with this kind of thing, you measure one day at a time. We appreciate every good minute we have.”
Further consideration is needed before vitamin E is recommended as a standard part of Alzheimer’s treatment, Sano said. In the meantime, patients and caregivers should consult with their doctor before adding it.