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B Vitamins and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

A study from The University of Oxford study shows that daily B vitamin supplements can halve the rate of brain atrophy in elderly people who suffer from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

The two year randomised double-blind clinical trial is the largest to study the effect of B vitamins on MCI and is excitingly one of the first disease-modifying trials in the Alzheimer’s field to show positive results in humans. The study assessed the progression of disease by measuring brain atrophy rate following 168 volunteers with mild memory problems, half of whom took the combined high dose B vitamin tablets for two years and the other half a placebo tablet. MRI scans were used to measure rate of brain shrinkage over the two-year period.

The research team set out to see whether taking supplements of the B vitamins required for maintaining and lowering homocysteine levels could slow the higher rate of brain atrophy observed in MCI or Alzheimer’s.

They found that on average the brains of those taking the folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 treatment shrank at a rate of 0.76% a year, while those in the placebo group had a mean brain shrinkage rate of 1.08%. Significantly the subjects with the highest levels of homocysteine benefited most, showing atrophy rates on treatment that were half of those on placebo.

Co-leader of the trial, Professor David Smith of the Department of Pharmacology, Oxford University, explained, “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 was co-funded by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive for the 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.”

High homocysteine levels are prevalent in Alzheimer’s sufferers who also commonly have a low B12 and folate nutritional status. This combination can be a predictor to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and age-related memory problems. High homocysteine is associated with more rapid progression of the disease and may damage both the brain and arteries supplying blood to the brain.