A megadose of vitamin E 'slows down' Alzheimer's: Patients able to cook, wash and stay independent for six months longer

  • U.S. experts says findings show the vitamin should be offered to patients
  • But British experts respond cautiously with warning over 'megadoses'

Hope: High doses of vitamin E could help people with Alzheimer's retain their independence for longer, claim researchers. (Stock image)

High doses of vitamin E could help people with Alzheimer’s retain their independence for longer, claim researchers.

A new trial showed that daily supplements slowed the functional decline of patients by around six months.

It meant they could do everyday activities such as cooking, washing and shopping for longer than  those who did not take a dose. The benefits were also felt by those looking after them as time spent  in caring duties dropped by two hours a day.

Professor Kenneth Davis, a US expert on brain disease who was involved in the study, said the trial showed that vitamin E should be offered to patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s.

However, experts in Britain responded cautiously to the findings, warning about the dangers of ‘megadoses’ of the vitamin. Previous research has indicated a link with higher death rates but the latest study raised no such concerns.

The US researchers, led by Dr Maurice Dysken, treated 613 patients, mostly men, with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. All of them were already receiving medication for their symptoms.

One group of 152 patients received a daily dose of 2,000 international units – which equates to more  than 1,300g – of alpha tocopherol, a form of vitamin E.

Others received either a placebo pill, the Alzheimer’s drug memantine, or a combination of vitamin E and memantine.

Over a period of 2.3 years, patients who took the supplements alone had an annual 19 per cent reduction in the extent to which Alzheimer’s affected their daily lives compared with the placebo group.

The effect amounted to a  ‘clinically meaningful’ delay of  6.2 months in a worsening ability  to deal with daily activities such  as shopping, preparing meals  and travelling, says a report in  the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Neither the drug nor a combination of memantine and vitamin E were as beneficial.

The annual death rate for supplement users was 7.3 per cent  compared with 9.4 per cent for those taking a placebo. The change in functional decline was assessed using an internationally recognised scale that rates patients from  zero to 78.

Compared with those taking vitamin E, the group taking dummy pills lost three or more units  on average.

‘A loss of this magnitude could translate into either the complete loss of being able to dress or bath independently, for example,’ said Dr Dysken, who described the supplement as a cost-effective treatment for Alzheimer’s.

New lease of life: The treatment meant dementia sufferers could do everyday activities such as cooking, washing and shopping for longer than those who did not take a dose. (Stock image for illustrative purposes)

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that slows down processes that damage cells and in Britain the recommended daily amount is 12mg. The  upper ‘safe’ limit is between 700 and 800mg a day, while those in the study took almost twice as much.

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, sounded a word of warning.

‘This study does not report negative side effects from vitamin E treatment, but concerns have been raised from previous studies that high doses of vitamin E could have health risks,’ he said.

‘The trial shows some inconsistencies in the effects seen between each treatment group and the population studied was almost exclusively male.

‘It will be important for these findings to be replicated in larger, more balanced study groups. Until the findings from this trial have been replicated, we would not encourage people to take high doses of  vitamin E supplements to try to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s.’

Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said it was important for patients to seek advice from their doctor before considering taking supplements.

‘In this instance, the dosage of vitamin E taken by participants was much higher than the recommended daily allowance and was at a level that could be significantly harmful for some,’ he said.

‘While this study into the link between vitamin E intake and reduction in functional decline is of interest, it is by no means conclusive. More research is needed to see if vitamin E really does have benefits for people with dementia, and whether it would be safe to be taking such a high dose on a daily basis.’

The comments below have not been moderated.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now