Vitamin B pill daily 'can help stave off Alzheimer's disease'

In their study, researchers at Oxford University have found that the vitamin pill, containing high doses of B vitamins and folic acid, reduced memory decline by 70 per cent in some elderly people.

It also halved the rate of brain shrinkage in some patients -- a physical symptom associated with forgetfulness that can lead to full blown Alzheimer's disease, 'The Daily Telegraph' reported.

Dr Celeste de Jager, who led the study, said the trial had "definitively" shown that the vitamins were a good way of preventing mental decline.

"A lot of the time brain changes start in your forties and fifties before you get clinical symptoms. I would think that in middle age people should start thinking about their vitamin levels," she said.

People should not begin taking supplements without consulting their doctor because they can have a harmful impact on other conditions such as cancer, she added.

The new treatment targets a compound in the bloodstream called homocysteine which is produced naturally by the body but reaches higher levels in old age. It damages the lining of blood vessels and leads to shrinkage of the brain, causing an increased risk of Alzheimer's, and stroke and heart disease.In fact, for their study, the researchers recruited 270 people aged 70 and above who suffered from lapses in memory known as mild cognitive impairment.

Half of patients were given pills containing extremely high doses of vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid, which are known to lower blood homocysteine levels, while the rest were given a placebo.

At several points during the study patients were given a simple verbal memory task in which they learnt a list of 12 words and required to recall them 20 minutes later.
After the first year, those with the highest levels of homocysteine were 70 per cent more likely to give a correct answer if they had been taking the vitamins than if they took the placebo.

There was little difference in memory rates between patients with below average levels of homocysteine regardless of which pills they took. This indicated that normal amounts of the compound do not affect brain function.

Scans of patients' brains showed that the vitamin pills reduced shrinkage by 30 per cent on average, rising to 50 per cent among patients with high homocysteine levels.
"The higher the homocysteine level in the blood, the better the response was on treatment. We need more research to show that we can actually delay the decline to dementia," Dr de Jager said.

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