NEW YORK (Reuters Health) (March 28, 2000) — Taking vitamin C and vitamin E supplements may help protect memory and mental decline as you age, researchers report.
A new study has found that elderly men who took vitamin E and C supplements at least once a week over a number of years were protected from dementia and actually showed improvements in cognitive function — a catch-all term including memory, creativity and mental acuity. "Vitamin E and C supplements may protect against...dementia and may improve cognitive function in late life," report Dr. Kamal H. Masaki of the Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and colleagues in the March issue of Neurology.
Although a protective effect was seen for two different types of dementia in men who took both vitamins, the supplements did not appear to prevent dementia due to Alzheimer's disease, the authors note.
In the study, Masaki and colleagues looked at supplement use among 3,385 Japanese-American men in 1988, and for a subset of the men, data was collected from 1982 as well. The amount of each vitamin the men took was unknown. The men, who ranged in age from 71 to 93 years, were tested 4 years later in 1993.
At that time, most men were not experiencing any memory problems, although 47 of the men had Alzheimer's dementia, 35 had vascular dementia (a dementia associated with artery-clogging and stroke), 50 had mixed/other types of dementia, and 254 performed poorly on the cognitive tests without diagnosed dementia. Men who took either vitamin C or E alone in 1988 scored better on the 1993 memory tests than men who took no supplements, the investigators report. Men who took both vitamins exhibited only a small improvement over those taking no supplements.
Masaki and co-authors note, however, that men who took both vitamin E and C supplements together for many years showed a substantially greater improvement, "suggesting that long-term use is required to improve cognitive function in late life."
The researchers believe that vitamin C and E may protect from brain damage because they are antioxidants and can mop up brain-damaging free radical particles.