Take Vitamins

I advise my patients to take vitamin C because the majority of the research suggests that antioxidants protect against memory loss due to aging and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Antiox-idants combat free radicals, destructive molecules that occur naturally in the body and damage healthy tissue, including brain tissue. We know that free radicals accelerate the aging process, and therefore, it's reasonable to assume that they promote age-related memory loss. It's also likely that free radicals contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease, because oxidative damage has been found on autopsy in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

One study suggests that vitamins E and C are beneficial in the treatment of age-related memory loss. The 2002 study published in the Archives of Neurology suggested that vitamin E, but not the other antioxidants, may help slow the rate of age-related mental decline. Researchers surveyed 2,889 individuals (average age of seventy-four) with regard to nutritional intake and use of vitamin and mineral supplements and evaluated changes in cognitive function over an average of about three years. People who consumed the most vitamin E exhibited 36 percent less cognitive decline than those who consumed the least.

There's also evidence that vitamins C and E, taken together, might protect against dementia. A study of 3,385 Japanese American men ages seventy-one to ninety-three found that those who reported regular use of vitamin C and E supplements had an 88 percent lower incidence of vascular dementia compared with those who did not use the supplements. The rate of dementia was lowest among men who had taken vitamins C and E the longest, suggesting that long-term use is important for helping to preserve cognitive function over time.

Evidence bearing on the ability of antioxidant supplements to prevent Alzheimer's disease is mixed. A 2003 study of 980 people reported no association between antioxidant intake and later development of Alzheimer's disease. However, a larger 2004 study published in the Archives of Neurology found that people who used vitamin C and E supplements were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who didn't use these supplements. In this study, 4,740 people ages sixty-five and older were surveyed regarding vitamin use and evaluated for signs of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The prevalence (number of cases of a disease in a given population at a specific time) of Alzheimer's disease was 78 percent lower among people who used vitamin C and E supplements than it was among those who did not. The incidence (rate of occurrence of new cases of a disease in a population over a period of time) of Alzheimer's disease during the course of the study was 64 percent lower in this group.

If you have problems with blood clotting—for instance, related to a vitamin K deficiency or if you take blood-thinning medication—you should check with your doctor before taking vitamin E because it can interfere with blood clotting.

As I discussed in Chapter 5, B vitamins (B6, B12, folic acid) are important for neuronal protection as well as the breakdown of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood that, in high levels, is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Although sufficient levels of B vitamins are usually provided by a well-balanced diet, deficiencies tend to become more prevalent with age. You should work with your doctor to monitor your homocysteine level and correct vitamin B deficiencies with supplementation when necessary.

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