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B-vitamins may help stave off Alzheimer's Disease–study

[UPDATED 28Jun2013] A study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) has shown that a high-dose vitamin B treatment can help prevent cognitive decline and dementia bought about by grey matter atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease. These were the results obtained from the two-year randomized, controlled clinical trial performed by researchers from the FMRIB Centre at the University of Oxford in the UK to test the efficacy of vitamin B treatment in delaying cognitive decline.
Alzheimer’s disease is a major public issue as it affects 36 million people worldwide. There’s a lot of research in finding a cure, but unfortunately some of the promising studies have failed late-stage clinical trials. The researchers chose to go in different direction in their approach of finding treatment for Alzheimer’s, by modifying nongenetic risk factors in the hopes of preventing most of the major symptoms of Alzheimer’s from occurring.
The treatment works by lowering plasma homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid naturally produced by the body that’s associated with heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have observed that elevated levels of this amino acid are often associated with grey matter atrophy or degeneration and reduction of brain volume which eventually causes the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Their high-dose vitamin B treatment, which is composed of 0.8mg of folic acid, 20 mg of vitamin B6, and 0.5 mg of vitamin B12, has significantly reduced the reduction of brain volume and slowed down grey matter degeneration within the 2 year treatment period. Cognitive skills of those of the test group were also far slower compared to those given the placebo.
Despite the success of the clinical trial, the authors acknowledge in the study that a longer and a larger trial is needed to determine the optimum dose and to obtain conclusive results on how this treatment would affect the incidence of dementia.
Dr. Gwenaelle Douaud, one of the authors of the study, told GMA News Online, "we simply used vitamin B supplements that already exists and are available (vitamin B12, which was the most effective, folate, B6) and it was administered daily as a pill."
Previous studies on the use of vitamin B supplements have not always yielded positive results. But Douaud believes that the reasons their trial produced promising data are because most of their subjects are still in the early stages of dementia and the homocysteine levels of the participants involved are moderately elevated. This means the disease is still at its early stages, which is probably why they responded well to treatment. The researchers also made sure that the subjects were throughly tested and scanned before and after treatment, allowing the team to have "a robust and unbiased way of assessing changes of a longer-term nature, including the impact of the treatment."
On whether or not vitamin B could be used as a form of treatment, Douaud is cautiosly optimistic: "This is too early to say. What we have shown is that, in these elderly people at risk for dementia and with high levels of homocysteine, you can slow the grey matter loss in the areas of the brain that matter, and therefore slow their cognitive decline. However, we would need a larger and longer trial to determine the optimal threshold of homocysteine that would warrant vitamin B supplementation and, crucially, if this could therefore slow the progression of Alzheimer's."  — TJD, GMA News