Researchers Find Growing Support for Vitamins E and C in Improving Memory, Reducing Risk of Neurological Diseases

BACKGROUND: With an aging population, researchers believe that the incidence of neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson diseases, will increase over the next fifty years. For example, 10 to 15 percent of people over age 65 and 50 percent of those over age 80 suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Vascular disorders and subtle inflammatory processes are believed to play major roles in the development of these diseases.

RESEARCH: A team of researchers from the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center, Tufts University, reviewed 197 scientific papers on the causes of cognitive impairment and relevant studies of antioxidants. They described how, in response to stress, the body releases inflammation-promoting chemicals that are neuro-toxic; they also noted research that suggest that antioxidants can reduce the activity of these inflammatory substances by influencinggene activity.

RESULTS: The Tufts researchers pointed out that clinical studies have found that large dosages of vitamin E and/or vitamin C can slow the progression of Alzheimer's and Parkinson diseases. Another study found that these supplements, taken over a year, improved short-term memory, psychomotor performance, and mood.

IMPLICATIONS: The researchers saw the use of vitamin E and C supplements as a positive step toward reducing the risk of age-related mental impairment. They wrote that "it appears that vitamins E and C have some protective effects on age-related deficits in behavioral function, particularly when vitamin use is steady and started early in life."

Martin A, Youdim K, Szprengiel A, et al, "Roles of vitamins E and C on neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive performance," Nutrition Reviews, 2002;60:308-334.

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