Can B vitamins slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease?

Leopold D. Galland, MD
Internal Medicine
Researchers from Oxford University found that giving a combination of B vitamins to elderly men and women at high risk of Alzheimer's disease reduced the amount of brain shrinkage occurring over 2 years by about 50%. Decreased brain shrinkage was accompanied by preservation of brain function.

This is a remarkable finding and an important study for several reasons:

It was a placebo-controlled 2-year experiment, not an observational study.

It used an objective measurement (brain volume loss) that correlates strongly with risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

The treatment used was a combination of three B vitamins at the following doses: folic acid 800 micrograms, vitamin B12 500 micrograms, and vitamin B6 20 milligrams. I'll call this mixture Triple B therapy; many studies have been done with it, using varied doses of the three B vitamins.

Based on this research, you may think that everyone should take B vitamins for Alzheimer's prevention.

But it's not that simple.

When it comes to B vitamins, one size clearly does not fit all.

In contrast to popular news coverage of this research, the Oxford study does not indicate that everyone would benefit from taking Triple B therapy.

In fact, previous research from the Alzheimer Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS) done in the United States, found no beneficial effect of a higher dose Triple B combination in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. This study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), actually found an increase in depression among people taking the B vitamins.

Together with some recent reports that folic acid supplementation increased cancer risk of certain groups, the Oxford study emphasizes the need for individualizing risks and benefits when taking any type of dietary supplement.
Anthony Cirillo
Geriatric Medicine
British researchers say they have discovered that very large daily doses of B vitamins can cut the rate of brain shrinkage in half. The findings could lead to treatment that would slow the progression of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, they said.

The two-year clinical trial is believed to be the largest to date studying the effects of B vitamins on individuals with mild cognitive impairment. Researchers said about half of those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment develop Alzheimer's within five years. Vitamins B6 and B12 have been found to control levels of an amino acid in the blood that has links to higher risks of developing Alzheimer's, experts explained.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.