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Peterson agreed. Most patients in that study had cardiovascular disease. He said the studies each found that high-dose vitamin E therapy was safe for Alzheimer’s patients generally. Even so, the risk should be discussed with patients and caregivers, he said.
The idea for the study grew out of an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997. Author Mary Sano, director of Alzheimer’s Research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, reported that 2,000 IU of vitamin E delayed progression of symptoms in patients with moderately severe Alzheimer’s. Dysken wanted to see whether the same was true for patients with mild to moderate symptoms.
Peterson said Dysken’s findings, taken together with Sano’s work, indicate that vitamin E should be considered for Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients.
Don’t know how it works
Asked how vitamin E might be working, Dysken laughed and said he had no idea.
“We describe it of course as an antioxidant, but I’m hard-pressed to give you any reasonably cogent theory about why it might be doing anything in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s,” he said.
He noted that Peterson of the Mayo Clinic has published a study that found that vitamin E had no significant effect in delaying the conversion from Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s.
“That’s really important to emphasize,” Dysken said. “This [VA] study really shows benefit for patients with the diagnosis. This is not a prevention study.”
Dysken said vitamin E’s effects were equivalent to currently available drugs called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, which have been shown to slow the progression of symptoms.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493