Dementia, which is marked by memory loss and cognitive decline, has become so widespread among the aging population that it touches the lives of almost everyone. Medical science has only recently begun to understand and develop strategies for dementia prevention and treatments for the various forms of dementia, which include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. With the acknowledgment that nutrition plays an important role in health, clinical studies are being performed to determine if vitamins can help prevent, reverse or slow the progress of these devastating brain diseases. While opinions vary, there does seem to be hope.
B Vitamins and the Role of Homocysteine
High levels of an amino acid called homocysteine are found in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients. Excess homocysteine is considered a risk factor for brain atrophy, dementia and general impairment of brain function, especially when accompanied by low or low-normal levels of B vitamins. B vitamins such as folic acid, B6 and B12 lower homocysteine levels and may subsequently slow the progress, or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of brain disease. More study is underway to verify the link, and determine the exact mechanisms of B vitamins in relation to homocysteine and brain atrophy. In the meantime, vitamin B supplements should only be taken under a doctor’s supervision.
Other Vitamins May Also Help
Low concentrations of vitamin D are also associated with dementia in the elderly, specifically in Alzheimer’s disease. Although taking vitamin D supplements can cause serious side effects such as nausea, vomiting and heart problems, the vitamin can be safely obtained through exposure to sunlight. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that prevents oxidative stress associated with accelerated aging. Like vitamin D levels, vitamin E levels are also low in Alzheimer’s patients. Some reports indicate that regular vitamin E supplementation for two years delays the onset and slows the progression of the disease. A 2010 study by Erasmus Medical Center in The Netherlands found that simply increasing the intake of foods rich in vitamin E can reduce dementia risk.
A Brighter Future for Dementia Patients
While researchers continue to unravel the mysteries of nutrients and lifestyle factors that influence dementia prevention and the course of dementia, we do know that a healthy diet and lifestyle, avoidance of smoking and careful management of chronic diseases like diabetes can help lower risk. Brain-training exercises that focus on memory, reasoning skills and information processing have also demonstrated positive and lasting effects on brain function in seniors. For those who fear developing early memory loss or cognitive difficulties, there is hope on the horizon.