A clinical trial of 613 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s has suggested that a form of vitamin E called alpha tocopherol may help to maintain the ability of people to go about day-to-day tasks. The findings are published on 31 December 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Previous clinical trials have not shown convincing benefits for vitamin E in people with Alzheimer’s and have even raised concerns about harmful side effects including increased mortality. To further investigate any potential benefits of the vitamin in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised clinical trial was performed with 613 participants. The average age of volunteers was 78 and over 96% of those involved in the trial were men.
Those enrolled on the trial were either given 2000IU/day of alpha tocopherol, 20mg/day of memantine (a drug currently recommended for use in people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s), both treatments or a placebo control. The main outcome of the study was to measure the ability of participants to perform day-to-day tasks, scored used a test called Activities of Daily Living. Other outcomes measured included performance on memory and thinking tests and the impact on caregivers.
The trial continued for just over two years, over which time participants receiving vitamin E showed a slower decline in the ability to do day-to-day tasks compared with those on memantine. The time that caregivers had to spend with their loved one also increased at a slower rate for those people receiving vitamin E. In comparison, performance on memory and thinking tests was no different between the treatment groups.
While treatment with vitamin E or memantine alone showed modest effects on day-to-day living compared to placebo, a combination of vitamin E and memantine appeared to show the least effect compared to control. The trial also reported no difference in the number of adverse side effects between treatment groups.
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This trial suggests vitamin E may modestly slow the decline in day-to-day functioning in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, but without having an effect on memory and thinking skills. Maintaining people’s ability to go about their life is important for those with Alzheimer’s and their families.
“The trial shows some inconsistencies in the effects seen between each treatment group and the population studied was almost exclusively male. It will be important for these findings to be replicated in larger, more balanced study groups.
“This study does not report negative side effects from vitamin E treatment, but concerns have been raised from previous studies that high doses of vitamin E could have health risks. Until the findings from this trial have been replicated, we would not encourage people to take high doses of vitamin E supplements to try to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s. If people are concerned about their vitamin intake or diet, they should talk to their GP.”