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New Study Suggests Vitamin E May Help Prevent Alzheimer's

Eating a diet rich in Vitamin E may lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published this week in the "Journal of the American Medical Association."

Researchers at Chicago's Rush-Presbyterian Saint Luke's Medical Center wanted to find out whether certain vitamins, known as antioxidants, act as a hedge against the mind-robbing ailment, Alzheimer's disease. Investigators studied the intake of antioxidants in a group of 815 elderly participants. None had Alzheimer's when the study began.

At the end of the study, 130 of the participants had been diagnosed with the disease. When researchers examined the participants' intake of antioxidants, including dietary and supplemental E and C, beta carotene and a multi-vitamin, they found the risk of Alzheimer's was 70 percent lower compared to those who ate the least amount of vitamin E from food only.

Supplemental Vitamin E and high doses of Vitamin C did not appear to protect against Alzheimer's disease, according to Martha Clare Morris, the study's lead author. "However," she said, "there were a fair number of new Vitamin E supplement users in our population. So, we would definitely want to follow this population for a longer period of time to determine whether a longer period of vitamin E supplement intake might offer some neuro- protection." The U.S. National Institute on Aging funded the study.

Neil Buckholtz of the Dementias of Aging Branch says the findings offer more evidence that diseases like Alzheimer's are caused by oxidative damage to the brain. That is, the very act of breathing results in the creation of unstable molecules known as free radicals that damage brain cells. Antioxidants work by disarming the unstable molecules.

"The importance of this study is that it indicates that a diet may help some people be protected against Alzheimer's disease," Mr. Buckholtz commented. But, he says, the precise benefits would have to be worked out in clinical trials.

In the meantime, researchers are cautioning the public not to take supplemental antioxidants hoping to ward off Alzheimer's disease.