Antioxidants (vitamins C and E and beta-carotene) neutralize destructive molecules called free radicals, which our bodies produce in large amounts as by-products of normal functioning. Because free radicals are prime suspects in many of the diseases and impairments that come with age, including dementia, scientists have long suspected that antioxidants might offer protection against 84 memory loss. The newest research suggests that some antioxidants do indeed prevent age-related memory loss, as well as some forms of dementia.

A large study suggested that vitamin E, but not the other antioxidants, might help slow the rate of age-related mental decline. This study, published in the Archives of Neurology in 2002, looked at 2,889 people ages sixty-five and older who, at the outset, had normal memory and cognitive function. Researchers collected detailed nutritional profiles and asked the people which vitamin and mineral supplements they took, and then tracked their cognitive function over an average follow-up interval of three years. Cognitive function was measured using standard tests of attention and memory. The data revealed that people who consumed the most vitamin E exhibited 36 percent less mental decline during the course of the study than did people who consumed the least. It did not seem to matter whether vitamin E was obtained from regular food sources or supplements.

An earlier study had found that vitamins C and E might protect against some forms of dementia, though not Alzheimer's. In this study, which included 3,385 Japanese American men ages seventy-one to ninety-three, those who reported taking vitamin C and E supplements had an 88 percent lower incidence of vascular dementia (which is related to stroke) compared with men who didn't take the supplements. The rate of dementia was lowest among men who'd taken the vitamins the longest, suggesting that long-term use of these vitamins is important for helping to preserve mental function with aging.

In its latest guidelines on vitamin E supplementation, the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine set 1,000 IU per day as the upper limit that would be unlikely to cause side effects. However, researchers from Johns Hopkins reported in November 2004 that use of vitamin E supplements in excess of 400 IU per day were associated with a marginally higher degree of mortality. Although we must heed this finding, the study leaves many questions unanswered. More research will be necessary before we can make a final determination regarding recommended use of vitamin E. i85

You should discuss use of these supplements with your doctor. Vitamin E can affect platelet function and promote bleeding. High doses of vitamin E can be dangerous if you are taking medicine that decreases blood coagulation or if you have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia, thrombocytopenia, or von Willebrand's disease.

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