B vitamins halve the rate of brain shrinkage in people with mild memory problems, research finds.
High doses of B vitamins — folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 — taken over two years were also linked to better scores on tests of memory and thinking.
Around 1 in 6 people over 70 have mild cognitive impairment.
About half of these people will go on to develop Alzheimer’s within five years.
Professor David Smith, study co-author, said:
“It is our hope that this simple and safe treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease in many people who suffer from mild memory problems.
Today there are about 1.5 million elderly in UK, 5 million in USA and 14 million in Europe with such memory problems.”
The study gave 168 volunteers over 70-years-old either a placebo or high doses of B vitamin tablets for two years.
Brain scans showed that brain shrinkage was reduced by 50% in people who took the B vitamins.
Lower rates of brain shrinkage were also linked to better scores on cognitive tests.
Professor Smith continued:
“These are immensely promising results but we do need to do more trials to conclude whether these particular B vitamins can slow or prevent development of Alzheimer’s.
So I wouldn’t yet recommend that anyone getting a bit older and beginning to be worried about memory lapses should rush out and buy vitamin B supplements without seeing a doctor.”
Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said:
“These are very important results, with B vitamins now showing a prospect of protecting some people from Alzheimer’s in old age.
The strong findings must inspire an expanded trial to follow people expected to develop Alzheimer’s, and we hope for further success.
We desperately need to support research into dementia, to help avoid the massive increases of people living with the condition as the population ages.
Research is the only answer to what remains the greatest medical challenge of our time.”
Subsequent to this study, carried out in 2010, other studies have questioned whether B vitamins can benefit Alzheimer’s — but research in this area continues.
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The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE (Smith et al., 2010).