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July 12th, 2010
04:02 PM ET

How vitamins E, D may help the brain

A  lot of research in recent years has provided evidence both for and against individual vitamins and supplements helping to reduce risk of brain diseases common in old age. The consensus is generally that nothing is certain to work, as CNN reported in April.

But there continue to be hints that particular vitamins may carry benefits in this area, as three studies out this week suggest.

Vitamin E

Researchers report in the Archives of Neurology that foods rich in vitamin E are associated with lower dementia risk. This is based on more than 5,000 people age 55 and older who did not have dementia between 1990 and 1993. They were followed up with about 10 years later on average.

The one-third of people studied who ate the most vitamin E - via foods such as margarine, sunflower oil, butter, cooking fat, soybean oil and mayonnaise - were 25 percent less likely to develop dementia than the one-third of participants who consumed the least.

When cells get damaged from oxygen exposure, this may contribute in Alzheimer's disease. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may prevent the development of dementia in the brain, the authors conclude.

But this is not a controlled experiment; participants were not randomly assigned to diets with and without high levels of vitamin E. And clinical trials have not conclusively shown that this vitamin when taken as a supplement has this benefit. Also, all participants came from the Netherlands. Further research is needed.

Vitamin D

Another study in Archives of Neurology found that people who have higher levels of vitamin D may have a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. How vitamin D provides this benefit is unknown, researchers say.

This study, led by Paul Knekt of Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare, looked at more than 3,100 participants who did not have Parkinson's disease when the study began (1978 to 1980). After about 29 years, 50 of them had developed Parkinson's, and those with the highest vitamin D levels had a significantly lower chance of developing the disease than participants with the lowest levels.

Again, this is not a controlled experiment, and it is specific to one country, but experts say the work is important.

"Knekt and colleagues’ study provides the first promising human data to suggest that inadequate vitamin D status is associated with the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, but further work is needed in both basic and clinical arenas to elucidate the exact role, mechanisms and optimum concentration of vitamin D in Parkinson’s disease," writes Dr. Marian Leslie Evatt of Emory University in an editorial.

More research is also needed to examine vitamin D's role in cognitive decline.

A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine finds that older adults deficient in vitamin D were 60 percent more likely to show substantial cognitive decline than participants with adequate levels. Researchers looked at 858 adults aged 65 and older.

Again, this is not a randomized controlled trial, but merely an observational study that provides the springboard for further investigation. An editorial in the journal calls for such trials.

Here's a recent article on depression and dementia.


soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. CLS

    Vitamin D and curcumin (found in tumeric):

    "The team discovered that curcuminoids enhanced the surface binding of amyloid beta to macrophages and that vitamin D strongly stimulated the uptake and absorption of amyloid beta in macrophages in a majority of patients."

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090715131558.htm

    Further the combination of the two appeared to REMOVE existing amyloid plaque deposits...

    July 12, 2010 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • evoc

      Ooh...fabulous. I am getting myself some more curcumin to take along with my vitamin D.

      July 12, 2010 at 23:26 | Report abuse |
  2. Jesus

    Curing dementia diseases should be the number one healthcare priority. We will bankrupt the healthcare system if we don't solve this problem. Our healthcare system cannot afford too many seniors living 15 to 20 years in need of daily assistance and care.

    July 12, 2010 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • evoc

      Jesus is a harsh god.

      July 12, 2010 at 23:28 | Report abuse |
    • Claire

      We need a combination of things: focus on sustainable populations (birth/immigration), making the hard choice to not save all the preemies who will need lifelong care just because the technology exists, legalized assisted suicide, etc. Otherwise, famine, war, and suffering will do it for us.

      July 13, 2010 at 04:57 | Report abuse |
  3. Bayugopai

    Hooray for sunshine butter and mayonnaise

    July 12, 2010 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Brett

    Placing margarine at the head of the list of vitamin E-rich "foods" in this article is just irresponsible journalism, primarily since margarine isn't even really a food and surely offers more health risks than benefits. Actually the entire list of vitamin E rich foods in this article are poor primary sources of this nutrient. Instead, try nuts, avocados, green leafy vegetables, eggs.

    July 12, 2010 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • evoc

      Yes, and margarine is known to lower testosterone levels in developing males.

      July 12, 2010 at 23:29 | Report abuse |
    • Public health

      Actually, Brett, the list is based on the foods that contribute most to vitamin E intake in this particular Dutch population. It's the facts, it's not irresponsible journalism. You should try reading the article before commenting next time.

      July 13, 2010 at 05:02 | Report abuse |
    • Claire

      @Brett, Thank you. Results of a not-very-scientific examination of populations, complete with a list of recommendations that makes it sound like it was written by an ad agency for some group that is losing out economically to healthier choices like nuts, avocados, etc.

      July 13, 2010 at 05:04 | Report abuse |
    • Public health

      @ Claire...see my comment above. This list of foods has everything to do with the foods that this Dutch population ate, not what the writer of this article thought would sound healthy.

      July 13, 2010 at 05:05 | Report abuse |
  5. Anonymous

    I like the lack of listing good healthy foods that contain these vitamins. Not even a picture of the foods, just a picture of useless vitamin tablets that you pee out.

    July 13, 2010 at 00:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • endeavor43

      Actually vitamin E, along with vitamin A, is fat-soluble but not water-soluble, so you are unlikely to just "pee it out." In fact, because of this, the body can store both of these vitamins, leading to the possibility of overdose, which is especially a problem with vitamin A.

      July 13, 2010 at 04:39 | Report abuse |
    • endeavor43

      Well, I notice in the photo a bottle of "water solubilized" vitamin E, so it appears that they have found a way to make it in a different form, and my earlier comment may not apply in all cases.

      July 13, 2010 at 06:13 | Report abuse |
  6. Odalice Feliz

    these vitamins are a key for a healthy brain, then we should eat more fruits and less junk and sweets.

    July 13, 2010 at 01:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Drew

    Vitamins are great for many people (break a Centrum in half and swallow each with one meal). As for curing Alzheimer's and the related dementias, I know three older relatives with each and others familiar with them can attest that the FAMILIES of such persons suffer; the patient can't remember anything, so they can live stress-free for a long time while making everyone else suffer. I hope they can cure this stuff eventually.

    July 13, 2010 at 02:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. endeavor43

    Are you the same "Richard Cranium" who plies the Memphis blogs? Just wondering...

    July 13, 2010 at 05:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. steveinkc

    What? Vitamins are good for us? So then Sesame Street was right.

    July 13, 2010 at 06:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Bob

    butter, cooking fat are sources of Vitamin E? That's news to me. I thought Vitamin E came from veggies. Man – I love butter and will use more cooking fat if it will stave off dementia in me.

    July 13, 2010 at 08:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hello

      Ever seen vitamin E oil or popped open a vitamin E pill? It's oily and greasy, isn't it? Vitamin E is fat soluble. It's also highest in fatty natural foods, like nuts and avocados.'

      This is why it's important to have adequate HEALTHY fats in your diet, and very low fat diets are bad for you. :)

      July 13, 2010 at 09:33 | Report abuse |
    • Hello

      P.S. Do not use more butter. Butter is NOT a good source of vitamin E. :)

      July 13, 2010 at 09:34 | Report abuse |
  11. Wake up

    This information was known for the past 50 years. What is wrong with you people? Do you people have any idea what is going on in the world or are you just reporting common sense as a distraction. You do know that EVERYBODY knows common sense, built in the human brain, facts. right?

    July 13, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Sue

    I'm not even sure why they even wrote this article. It's the equivalent of saying my friend's mother took vitamin E and she doesn't have dementia. Not randomized. No controls. In other words, not much more than a chin stroking "hmm, that's interesting". Only thing that officially makes the article not misleading is that they noted all the shortcomings in the studies. Article is pretty worthless outside of an attention-grabber.

    July 13, 2010 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hello

      Except it's not the equivalent because they did that with THOUSANDS of people, so they're able to detect statistical patterns. The article's title says "MAY" and they state repeatedly in the article the downfalls from the studies.

      The purpose of studies such as this is to detect associations that can then be further researched. They know there may be a connection, now they can work to study exactly WHY a certain vitamin has a certain effect.

      July 13, 2010 at 09:36 | Report abuse |
    • Public health

      @Sue - your statements are totally misinformed. The study of vitamin E is based on dietary vitamin E, not supplemental vitamin E, and you can never do a long-term dietary study in the context of randomized clinical trials. You won't get people to adhere correctly to a particular dietary intervention for long periods, and trials can't go on for long periods because of the expense - hence, you're going to have a tough time getting enough people to develop dementia in the time period of a trial (i.e. it's impossible).

      In general, observational studies such as this one are helpful for building evidence toward potentially doing a trial. But, in the case of diet and dementia, observational studies play a tremendously important role because they can capture longer-term diet and incident dementia cases.

      I suggest that you learn something about epidemiology before making such radical comments next time.

      July 13, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse |
  13. LimRickNews

    Two studies have hailed two Vitamins,
    Which promote your brain’s working’ns.
    Reduce dementia, that’s E.
    Less Parkinson’s, more D.
    So choose wisely when pickin’ your ingredien’s.
    For more, google "LimRickNews".

    July 13, 2010 at 08:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Vince

    There is a great deal of evidence that butter, lard, and mayonnaise (eggs) do not contain Vitamin D anymore, because cows, sheep, and chickens do not graze and forage in the sunshine anymore. Animals cannot make Vitamin D unless they live outside in the sunshine. So the findings of this study are likely to be wrong.

    July 13, 2010 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hello

      Good point. These studies are from Finland and the Netherlands and I believe animal farming is very different in the U.S.

      In the U.S. our best sources are likely nuts, avocados, whole grains, some uncooked oils....

      July 13, 2010 at 09:39 | Report abuse |
    • Public health

      @ Vince and Hello - Not a good point. These are two separate studies!! No one claimed that vitamin D was found in those animal sources.

      July 13, 2010 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
  15. DaveJ

    Jesus, you are correct, but the money/health care issue isn't just about Demetia. The problem is that doctors and medicine try to keep the dying alive when they should just let them go. 90% of the total money spent during a person entire life is spent during the last 3 months of their life. That's staggering! As Doctor Cox said on SCRUBS, "The problem is we try to keep people that should be dead alive as long as we can."

    July 13, 2010 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Bob DeMarco

    The Alzheimer's Reading Room has clear, concise, usable news, research, insight and advice for the entire Alzheimer's community. 100 Million Americans have been touched by Alzheimer's Disease, 35 million are worried about Alzheimer's Disease.

    http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2010/02/about-alzheimers-reading-room.html

    July 13, 2010 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Rob

    Interesting article thanks! I've already read a couple about how apparently 50% of the population is vitamin D deficient natural energy supplement

    August 12, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.