Long-Term Use of Vitamin E and C Supplements May Help to Maintain Cognitive Function in Elderly Women

BACKGROUND: Considerable research indicates that age-related cognitive decline is partly the result of free-radical damage to brain cells. Several studies have suggested that a high intake of antioxidants may slow age- related cognitive decline. One study in particular found that very high- dose vitamin E supplements delayed the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

RESEARCH: Researchers tested the cognitive function of almost 15,000 women, ages 70-79, participating in the Nurses' Health Study. The tests included memory, immediate and delayed recall of lists of words, and tests of verbal fluency. For example, one of the tests asked women to name as many animals as they could in one minute. (The responses ranged from two to 38 animal names.) Test scores were compared with the subjects' use of vitamin E and C supplements.

RESULTS: Women who had been taking both vitamin E and vitamin C supplements for at least 10 years had significantly better cognitive performance than women who had never taken those supplements. The benefits were less consistent among women who had taken vitamin E alone, and no benefits were associated with vitamin C alone. The analyses also showed a trend of increased benefit with duration of supplement use, and was stronger among women with poor dietary intake of vitamin E.

IMPLICATIONS: This study shows that women who have taken vitamin E and vitamin C supplements for at least 10 years maintained better cognitive function in their 70s, compared with women who took only one of the vitamins or none at all.

Grodstein F, Chen J, Willett WC., "High-dose antioxidant supplements and cognitive function in community-dwelling women," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003;77:975-984.

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