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Vitamin E hope for Alzheimer’s patients

- Daily dose slows down functional decline, finds US study

New Delhi, Jan. 1: Vitamin E can slow the functional decline of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, suggests a new study that doctors say is encouraging enough to influence current treatment strategies.

Medical researchers in the US have announced that vitamin E treatment leads to a “clinically meaningful delay” in the progression of functional decline which interferes with patients’ capacity to perform routine daily activities.

Their study, described as one of the largest trials to evaluate the effect of vitamin E on patients with mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease, has shown that functional decline among patients who received the dose was delayed by about six months. The time that caregivers spent on looking after the needs of the patients also fell by an average of about two hours per day.

The study appeared today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Now that we have a strong clinical trial showing that vitamin E slows functional decline and reduces burdens on caregivers, vitamin E should be offered to patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease,” Kenneth Davis, professor of psychiatry and president of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, said in a media release issued by the institution.

In the study, researchers divided 613 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease into four groups — some received a daily dose of 2,000 standard units of vitamin E, the others received either placebo (sham treatment) or another compound.

The researchers examined patients for an average of about two years and observed that those who had received placebo pills had progressed to levels of functional decline that could interfere with their ability to dress or bathe independently.

A study by neurologists at the Sri Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, to investigate the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in India had last year found that among 1,066 persons above 55 years followed up for about eight years, 98 developed Alzheimer’s disease.

“This rate is marginally lower than that reported from the western world,” neurologist P.S. Mathuranath and his colleagues at the Thiruvananthapuram institute had said, reporting their findings in the journal Neurology India.

The US researchers have said the findings are significant because vitamin E is an inexpensive pharmaceutical product and the observed benefits appear to make the treatment cost-effective.

A large analysis of the effects of vitamin E treatment had in 2005 indicated that it could increase mortality from all causes. But the new study has not detected any increase in mortality. The death rate was 7.3 per cent among the vitamin E group, and 9.4 per cent among the placebo group.