Experts said the discovery was very exciting and could offer a new treatment for people at risk of dementia.
However, they said far larger studies are now needed to prove vitamin B does help, as previous trials have proved disappointing. Vitamin B is found naturally in foods like beans, meat, wholegrains and bananas.
The research, published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, will prove controversial because it suggests that you can treat dementia by swallowing a food supplement rather than by taking complicated medicines. Researchers at Oxford University, assisted by colleagues in Norway, used an advanced MRI technique to study brain shrinkage in 168 volunteers over the age of 70 who had mild cognitive impairment, meaning they had slight problems with memory but not dementia.
Over a period of two years, half were given a daily tablet containing high doses of the B vitamins folate, B6 and B12. The rest received a ‘dummy placebo pill with no active ingredients. At the end of the trial the effects of the vitamin treatment were found to be dramatic and most pronounced in participants who started out with the highest rates of brain shrinkage. On average taking B vitamins slowed the rate of brain atrophy by 30 per cent and in some cases reductions as high as 53 per cent were seen.
Professor David Smith, one of the study leaders from the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford University, said:
‘ This is a very striking, dramatic result. It’s much more than we could have predicted. It is our hope that this simple and safe treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease in many people who suffer from mild memory problems.’
But he warned the long-term effects of taking big doses of the vitamins were not known and there was some evidence that high folate intake could be linked to cancer.
Thursday September 9, 2010