Vitamin E may slow functional decline for some Alzheimer's patients

Taking vitamin E supplements may delay declines in daily functioning experienced by patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reveals.

The research, which will be published on Jan. 1 in the Journal of the American Medical Assoication, showed that patients who took vitamin E daily were able to stave off annual declines in functioning by about 19 percent longer when it came to performing tasks like shopping and traveling, compared to people who took placebos.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating disease that costs individuals quite a bit in quality of life and costs us all in terms of economic expenses," study author Dr. Mary Sano, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, told CBS News.”Finding good treatments and cures is very important.”

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association. About 5.2 million Americans were affected by the disease in 2013. Last year, 15.4 million people cared for patients with Alzheimer’s at an estimated cost of $216 billion.

The researchers examined 613 patients, mostly male, who had been diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They were all taking currently-approved medications to treat Alzheimer's, called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, and continued those treatment throughout the study.

Patients were randomized to receive an additional daily regimen of either 2,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin E, 20 milligrams of an Alzheimer’s medication called memantine, a placebo, or a combination of vitamin E and memantine daily. The amount of vitamin E consumed each day was equivalent to about two over-the-counter vitamin E supplement pills.

Patients were followed for a little more than two years on average so researchers could track any declines they had in daily functioning.

The researchers found that patients who took the vitamin E supplements showed on average 6.2 months of added benefit for performing everyday activities than those taking the placebo, what amounted to 19 percent less functional decline. In addition, patients who took vitamin E were more likely to live through the end of the study.

There was no added benefit in vitamin E takers when it came to staving off cognitive or memory declines, nor did patients with only mild cognitive woes see any boosts from additional vitamin E.

There were few side effects observed in the study. Those who took the memantine had an increased rate of infection, but no side effects were observed for those taking vitamin E.

“This study is the first to show an added benefit for vitamin E in mild-to-moderate disease,” Dr. Kenneth Davis, chief executive officer and president of the Mount Sinai Health System who was not directly involved in the study, said in a press release. “Now that we have a strong clinical trial showing that vitamin E slows functional decline and reduces the burdens on caregivers, vitamin E should be offered to patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.” 


But, a recent study showed that taking multivitamins was not beneficial for the general population when it came to brain health. Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told CBS News around the study's release that the findings didn't mean that vitamins can't help others.

For people without Alzheimer’s who may want to take vitamin E to stave off dementia symptoms, the benefits may not be as pronounced, Sano pointed out.

“Here the idea is to take the vitamin to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease,” she explained.

Sano added that this study showed that vitamin E may help people who are in the early stages of the disease. Many resources have been dedicated to finding out ways to prevent Alzheimer's, but it is still important to help those who have been diagnosed with the cognitive illness, she said.

“We can’t forsake those people who have the disease. Even if we find better treatments, people will always escape and get the disease,” she said.