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From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

A cheap regimen of vitamins in use for decades is seen by some scientists as a way to delay the start of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, a goal that prescription drugs have failed to achieve.

Drugmakers including Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Pfizer Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co. have spent billions of dollars on failed therapies in a so-far fruitless effort to come up with an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Now, in the latest of a steady drumbeat of research that suggests diet, exercise and socializing remain patients’ best hope, a study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that vitamins B-6 and B-12 combined with folic acid slowed atrophy of gray matter in brain areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“You don’t have any other options for these patients, so why not try giving them this cocktail of B vitamins?” says Johan Lokk, a professor and head physician in the geriatric department at Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge in Sweden, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affect mostly older people. As people live longer, the number afflicted by the conditions is growing. Delaying dementia with an inexpensive vitamin regimen may help stem the surge in cases, which the World Health Organization predicted would more than triple from 36 million worldwide in 2010 to 115 million in 2050, as well as the cost, estimated at $604 billion in 2010 by Alzheimer’s Disease International.

In the study, researchers tracked 156 people ages 70 and older who had mild memory loss and high levels of a protein previously linked to dementia. Among people with elevated homocysteine, the study found that the amount of gray matter declined 5.2 percent in those taking a placebo, compared with 0.6 percent in those who took the vitamin cocktail. The supplements cost about 30 cents a day in pharmacies and health-food stores.

“It’s the first and only disease-modifying treatment that’s worked,” said A. David Smith, professor emeritus of pharmacology at Oxford University in England and senior author of the study. “We have proved the concept that you can modify the disease.”

The Food and Drug Administration has not cleared new drugs for memory loss conditions in a decade. Approved medicines such as Eisai Co.’s Aricept ease symptoms without slowing or curing dementia.

Vitamin B-12 is found in liver, fish and milk and folic acid in fruit and vegetables. Deficiency of B vitamins and folate is already linked to dementia.

A U.S. study published in 2008 found that people who had moderate or severe Alzheimer’s did not benefit from the supplements.


Link to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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