E May Help Keep
People Sharp in Old Age
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Vitamin E intake in
food and supplements may help slow decline in mental functioning
among older people, according to the results of a study.
"High amounts of vitamin E from foods appears to be protective from
cognitive decline," lead author Dr. Martha Clare Morris, assistant
professor of internal medicine at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical
Center in Chicago, Illinois, told Reuters Health.
The researchers theorized that vitamin E, an
antioxidant, may counteract the damage done to brain cells by
free radicals, which are byproducts of normal body processes that
can damage tissue and have been linked to disease. Previous research
has suggested that people who consume more vitamin E retain mental
function and are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.
To investigate, the researchers studied more
than 2,800 US men and women aged 65 to 102. Each was given an
initial battery of mental function tests and followed for an average
of 3 years, during which they were retested two or three times.
They were also asked to fill out a food questionnaire assessing
how much of various nutrients they received in their diets and
The investigators took into account factors
that may influence mental function such as age, gender, education,
smoking and drinking.
According to the findings, published in the
July issue of the Archives of Neurology, 61% of the study participants
showed some decline in their mental function during the course
of the study, while 39% had no decline or even improved. The group
who reported the highest intakes of vitamin E had a slower decline
in mental function than those whose vitamin E intake was lowest.
"There was a 36% reduction in the rate of decline
for people in the highest fifth of intake of vitamin E compared
to those in lowest fifth of intake," Morris said, referring to
intake of the vitamin in both food and supplements.
And those with the highest intake of vitamin
E in food had a 32% reduction in their rate of mental decline,
compared to those with the least vitamin E in their diets, she
For those who took vitamin E supplements, the
effect on mental skill was only seen among those who received
little vitamin E from their diet, but not in those who already
received lots of the vitamin in their diet. "There may be a ceiling
effect, and if you taking more, it's not helpful," Morris noted.
However, because the number of people taking
supplements during the study doubled, possibly in response to
cognitive decline, it was hard for researchers to draw conclusions
about whether supplement use was effective on its own in maintaining
By contrast, vitamin C seemed to have only a
limited effect on mental function. "We also don't feel that our
data on vitamin C was definitive," Morris said. "The association
The team recently reported similar findings
for vitamin E and Alzheimer's disease. High intake of the nutrient
was linked to a 70% reduction in the risk of developing the disease
during a 4-year period. Together, Morris noted, the studies strongly
suggest that vitamin E has some protective effect on the brain.
Vitamin E is found in green, leafy vegetables
as well as corn, nuts, olives and vegetable oils.
SOURCE: Archives of Neurology 2002;59:1125-1132.
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