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Can Antioxidant Vitamins Prevent Dementia?

A study in the February edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society examines whether antioxidant use has any effect on the development of Dementia or Alzheimerís disease in the geriatric population. The reduction of oxidative stress via the intake of antioxidant vitamins has been proposed to reduce the risk of developing vascular dementia and Alzheimerís dementia. Some studies have suggested that vitamin C, and especially vitamin E, or both taken in combination posses this capability.

The study composed 2581 men and women recruited between 1994 and 1996 as well as a further 811 added between 2000 and 2002. The subjects were divided into several categories depending on what supplements they took. The categories included participants who took vitamins C and E, a multivitamin, various combinations of supplements, and a group who did not use any supplements. The average age of participants at the start of the study was 75.

The study found that there was no protective effect from the use of vitamins C and E, or both in combination or the development of vascular dementia and Alzheimerís dementia. There was also no protection from progressing from Mild Cognitive Impairment to either subtype of dementia.

The study had two weaknesses often shared by other studies of antioxidant supplements. It did not account for the dose or frequency of antioxidant use. To be counted in the vitamin use group, subjects had only to take them for at least one week in the previous month. No information about dose was available but it was assumed that subjects who took vitamin C and E supplements received a higher dose compared to those taking a multivitamin. The authors acknowledged that the dose of antioxidants and frequency of use in this study may have been too low to provide protection from dementia.

Secondly, the study did not address the effects of taking antioxidant supplementation earlier in life on the development of dementia. As mentioned, the mean age at entry into the study was 75. However recent data suggest that high-dose vitamin E supplementation may have its own medical risks and thus the authors doubt that this area of research is unlikely to be investigated.

Nevertheless, the consistency of the data lead the authors to conclude that the current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant vitamin supplements as a means to prevent the development of dementia in the elderly.

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