How Vitamin E Helps Treat Dementia

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS)

In relation to dementia, vitamin E is supposed to work wonders. The number of people delving into Mother Nature’s medicine chest to look for more organic ways to treat disease has resulted in a huge market for vitamin supplements. Never-ending combinations of vitamins are advertised as cure-alls for everything from the common cold to arthritis.

Like all vitamins, vitamin E is found naturally in plant extracts, fruit, and vegetables. Ideally, you’ll get all the vitamins you need from your diet rather than popping them in pill form. Natural sources of vitamin E include

  • Sunflower and olive oil
  • Almonds and hazelnuts
  • Kiwi fruit, mangoes, tomatoes
  • Pumpkins, turnips, avocados, asparagus, sweet potatoes
  • Fish and shellfish

With a list that good and wholesome, no wonder vitamin E is thought to do some good.

Vitamin E also has a role in protecting the outer layer of human cells, called the membrane, which in turn protects and maintains the normal function of cells themselves.

Active ingredient

As with gingko, antioxidants are suggested to be the active ingredient in vitamin E.

Side effects

Unfortunately, just because something is natural and found in something as tasty as kiwi fruit doesn’t mean that it can’t cause unpleasant side effects when industrially concentrated into a pill. The most frequently reported problems are sickness and diarrhea, and muscle weakness.

Vitamin E can also interact with prescription medicines designed to thin the blood, such as warfarin (Coumadin) and clopidogrel (Plavix), the newer blood thinners (Pradaxa, Eliquis, Savaysa, or Xarelto) and even aspirin, increasing the risk of abnormal bleeding and bruising. Even worse, some research evidence shows that prolonged intake of high doses of vitamin E can increase your risk of death, especially in people with heart disease.

Evidence

Much of the research on the effects of vitamin E has been conducted with animals. A paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in early 2014 suggests, however, that the benefits accruing from vitamin E supplements may be genuine. The research team carried out a randomized controlled trial whereby 613 participants received doses of vitamin E, the dementia drug memantine, vitamin E plus memantine, or an inactive placebo. The results showed that, although none of these treatments was effective in slowing down cognitive function itself, people’s ability to carry out their usual daily activities declined more slowly when they took vitamin E than if they took a placebo. Taking memantine together with vitamin E provided no extra benefit.

Unfortunately, though this finding suggests a modest but genuine benefit from taking vitamin E, uncertainty still remains regarding the safety of taking the high doses used in the study for a sustained period of time.

While the jury’s out, sticking to other medicines is probably the best advice for now.