Brain Health: Can Vitamin E Help?

Can vitamin E prevent or improve memory problems as we age? Vitamin E is an antioxidant. In your cells, antioxidants block the action of cell-damaging molecules. This has led some people to think that vitamin E may help to prevent or treat dementia. In January 2017, Cochrane updated its review of the evidence on vitamin E and the aging brain.

The reviewers found two studies that met their criteria. One looked at whether vitamin E might prevent patients with mild memory problems from developing dementia. It found no difference between the patients taking vitamin E and the patients who did not. The other study asked whether vitamin E might have a positive impact on patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. The patients taking vitamin E showed no improvement in thinking and memory, or in mental health. However, they were more able to manage everyday tasks like getting dressed.

Their conclusion? Right now we do not know whether vitamin E can help prevent or treat dementia. The review only included two studies, and the evidence found was mixed. More studies are needed, not only to test effectiveness but also to look at safety. Although generally safe, vitamin E can be toxic in high doses. About 60,000 cases of vitamin E poisoning are reported to U.S poison control centers each year. Two large studies have also found that taking vitamin E supplements might raise your risk of cancer and stroke. A National Institutes of Health review of large antioxidant studies found that antioxidant supplements did not produce the expected health benefits. Vitamin E and other antioxidants come in different forms, and it is possible that each kind has a different impact on the body.

What is clear that people who eat a diet high in nuts, fruits, and vegetables have lower rates of dementia, as well as cancer, heart disease, and many other diseases. Scientists have yet to understand the relationship between the antioxidants in these foods and the better health among people who eat them. In the future we may find that taking vitamin E supplements can offer you added protection from dementia as you age. But the evidence so far suggests that vitamin supplements are not a substitute for making sure you “eat a rainbow” every day.

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