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JHMI Study Reports That Vitamins C and E Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

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By Sarah Williams

February 13, 2004 I lose things all the time, from my dorm access card to my chemistry homework. I am constantly complaining about the vacuum in my room that I imagine sucks everything up. I'm sure you too know the familiar feeling of having misplaced something. You usually end up finding it though, remembering where you left it. Imagine being 80 years-old and not being able to remember your children's names, or your address, or whether you already ate breakfast or not. For the four million Americans afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, this constant forgetfulness is a reality of life.

In a study published in the January 2004 issue of Archives of Neurobiology, a team of Hopkins researchers proposes that taking antioxidant vitamin supplements decreases one's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Peter Zandi, the lead author of the study, says that the goal of the team was to "examine the protective effects of antioxidant supplements" against Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common illness which causes dementia. According to the National Institutes on Aging (NIA), dementia is any brain disease which affects one's ability to carry out daily activities. The cause of Alzheimer's disease is not understood, and the NIA states that there is no cure. Originally named in 1906 after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, Alzheimer's disease was discovered because of its physical affects on the brain. Dr. Alzheimer noticed tangled fibers and clumps in the brain of a patient who had died of an unusual mental illness. According to the NIA, these are now considered the trademarks of Alzheimer's disease.

People are usually diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease after age 60. By the time someone reaches age 85, according to the NIA, they have developed a 50 percent chance of having the disease. Some of the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are mild memory loss and the disease eventually leads to severe brain damage. People with Alzheimer's disease live for an average of eight to ten years after their diagnosis of the disease.

Oxidation is a natural process by which cells are damaged. This occurs throughout one's lifetime, not only in old age, by unstable molecules called free radicals. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), antioxidant vitamins protect cells from this damage by stabilizing the free radicals. The NCI lists the most common antioxidant vitamins as vitamins A, C, and E, lycopene, lutein, beta-carotene and selenium. Antioxidants such as the aforementioned can be found in many common fruits, vegetables, nuts and some meat and poultry.

Dr. Zandi explains that there are differences among the antioxidants, which make them work well together. "Vitamin E is one of the most powerful antioxidants. It is lipid-soluble and sticks around in the body for a relatively long time. Vitamin C is another antioxidant, but it is water-soluble and is rapidly excreted from the body. There is evidence that vitamin C may serve to recharge the antioxidative capacities of vitamin E in the body, thus possibly explaining the greater protective effect seen in taking the combination of E and C together."

Zandi's study was based on information gathered from thousands of people in Cache County, Utah from 1996 to 2000. Participants were aged 65 and older at the beginning of the study. Information about Alzheimer's disease as well as the patients biographical and medical histories were gathered. The researchers found that about 17 percent of the study's participants had been taking vitamin E or C supplements. Another 20 percent of the participants reported using multivitamins, but these do not contain nearly as high an amount of vitamins E or C as the individual supplements do.

Currently the government recommended daily allowance of these antioxidants is 15 milligrams of vitamin E and 75-90 milligrams of vitamin C. Individual supplements often contain more than fifty times this amount of the vitamins, whereas multivitamins usually contain about the recommended daily allowance.

The results of the study show that the people who took the supplements, as opposed to those who took multivitamins or nothing, were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Zandi explained that these results "are promising. Because vitamin E and C are relatively safe and may have other health benefits, they may offer an attractive strategy for preventing Alzheimer's disease." At this point, however, more studies must be done to confirm the findings. According to Dr. Zandi, once additional trials have been conducted, doctors may be able to "conclusively recommend taking these antioxidants for prevention of Alzheimer's."

Source: © 2004 The Johns Hopkins News-Letter (online at http://www.jhunewsletter.com/vnews).

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