Could vitamins C and E prevent Alzheimer’s?

Taking a high-dose combination of vitamins C and E may provide a “protective bang” against Alzheimer’s disease, according to recent research funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study builds on past research that indicates antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, may reduce free radical damage to the brain. The potentially damaging free radicals are spawned through the body’s metabolism or through environmental factors, such as pollution, sunlight, and cigarette smoke. “The hypothesis is that by taking antioxidants, you soak up the free radicals so they don’t cause brain-cell death,” says study author Peter Zandi, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The risk for developing Alzheimer’s increases with age. Approximately 4.5 million Americans have the disease—that’s nearly double the number of people who had it in 1980. Those with the debilitating illness gradually lose their memory and with it their ability to learn, reason, and make judgments.

The study, published in the Archives of Neurology (2004, vol. 61, no. 1), looked at 4,740 people 65 and older. The study results showed that those who took a combination of at least 500 mg of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E prior to the study were 78 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than those not taking the supplement combination. (Ninety-seven percent of those taking the supplement combination had been doing so for at least two years.) The recommended daily allowances for vitamins C and E are 75 mg to 90 mg and 22 IU, respectively.

“We are generating interesting hypotheses that the scientific community needs to follow up on,” says Zandi. He also stresses that this was an observational study and that randomized trials are needed to back up these results.

—Cristina Garcia