How Can Vitamins Help with Alzheimer's?

In depth research on essential vitamins.


Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Approximately 4.5 million Americans have this disease. Although many things about Alzheimer's remain a mystery, research continues to bring us a better understanding of the disease, more accurate diagnoses, and more effective treatments, particularly the roles of certain vitamins in its prevention.

Alzheimer's disease, first described by the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, is a physical disease affecting the brain. During the course of the disease 'plaques' and 'tangles' develop in the structure of the brain, leading to the death of brain cells.

We also know that people with Alzheimer's have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. These chemicals are involved with the transmission of messages within the brain. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, which means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged.

As this happens, the symptoms become more severe. Memory lapses, confusion, mood swings, and social withdrawal are some of the early symptoms of the disease. As the disease progresses, people with Alzheimer's will need more support from those who care for them. Eventually they will need help with all their daily activities. What causes Alzheimer's disease? So far, no one single factor has been identified as a cause for Alzheimer's disease. It is likely that a combination of factors, including age, genetic inheritance, environmental factors, diet and overall general health, are responsible. Alzheimer's has no known cure.

People who have had severe head or whiplash injuries appear to be at increased risk of developing dementia. Boxers who receive continual blows to the head are also at risk. Research has also shown that people who smoke and those who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels increase their risk of developing Alzheimer's. Research findings have long suggested that the antioxidants: carotenes, vitamin C, vitamin E and other nutrients, might reduce cellular damage to neurons and protect against dementia.
This supports the viability of a multivitamin being beneficial in the prevention of the disease.

In 2003, the U.S. National Institute on Aging sponsored a multicenter trial to test the safety and effectiveness of selected vitamin supplements to treat Alzheimer's disease. The supplements under investigation are folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 all previously shown to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood.

Studies have shown that high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is a building block of proteins, may be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have suggested that the increased level of homocysteines may make brain cells more vulnerable to the damage that occurs in Alzheimer's disease.

Others studies have linked vitamins C and E to Alzheimer's disease. Indeed, recent findings showed that high doses of a combination of these vitamins reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Older adults who take supplements containing at least 400 IU (international units) of vitamin E and 500 milligrams of vitamin C may reduce their risk of Alzheimer's disease, researchers reported in the January 2004 Archives of Neurology. However, there was no significant reduction in the risk of Alzheimer's when the vitamins were taken alone.

The theoretical basis for the interest in vitamins E and C is their antioxidant effect. The normal cell function termed "oxidative metabolism" results in byproducts known as free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that quickly "attack" other cell substances, causing damage to the cell wall, metabolic machinery, and genetic material (DNA).

Our cells have natural defenses against this damage, which include the antioxidants vitamins C and E, but with age some of these protective mechanisms decline. Brain cell damage caused by free radicals may play a large role in Alzheimer's disease.

The current recommended daily allowance for vitamin E is 22 international units or 15 milligrams, and 75 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C. Unfortunately many of the "general" multivitamins do not give you the level of vitamins you need to be taking. The higher doses most strongly associated with reduced Alzheimer risk in this study are more often found in individual supplements, or high quality liquid multivitamins.

Genetic research has discovered that the presence of a specific gene variant called APOE4 is associated with Alzheimer's disease. Those with the APOE4 gene have lower concentrations of vitamin K in their blood. The data collected thus far provides evidence that vitamin K may be beneficial in both preventing and treating Alzheimer's.

One study at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden followed 370 people for three years who were 75 years or older and had no signs of dementia. During the study period, the researchers evaluated the participant's blood levels of vitamin B12 and folate (a.k.a., vitamin B9 or folic acid) and compared them to normal levels. The results indicate that those patients with below normal levels of both vitamin B12 and folic acid had over twice the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than those with normal levels.

Hopefully this evidence has given you enough reason for you to start taking your vitamins if you haven't already done so, particuarly if you are at risk for any major disease. The good news is that quality multivitamins can be had for under a dollar a day, a small price to pay for your health.

A good multivitamin is the foundation of health and nutrition. Take a look at our scientific reviews of many of the popular brands for factors such as ingredients, areas of improvement, quality level, and overall value. If you are looking for a high quality liquid multivitamin, we suggest that you take a look at the Multivitamin Product Comparisons.

Archives of Neurology, 2004;61:82-88

Seshadri S, Beiser A, Selhub J, Jacques PF, Rosenberg IH, D'Agostino RB, Wilson PW, Wolf PA. Plasma homocysteine as a risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer's disease. N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 14;346(7):476-83.

Aisen PS, Egelko S, Andrews H, Diaz-Arrastia R, Weiner M, DeCarli C, Jagust W, Miller JW, Green R, Bell K, Sano M. A pilot study of vitamins to lower plasma homocysteine levels in Alzheimer disease. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2003 Mar-Apr;11(2):246-9.

Allison A. C. (2001, August). The possible role of vitamin K deficiency in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease and in augmenting brain damage associated with cardiovascular disease. Medical Hypotheses, 57(2), 151-155.

Beers, M. H. & Berkow, R. (ed). Dementia [electronic version]. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, 17th Edition. Merck Research Laboratories, NJ, 1999. Retrieved November 5, 2003, from sp.

Fauci, A., Braunwald, E., Isselbacher, K., Wilson, J., Martin, J., Kasper, D., Hauser, S., Longo, D. (ed). Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 14th Edition. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1998.

Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. (nd). Dietary reference intakes: Vitamins. Retrieved November 7, 2003, from

Maitlin, L. J. (2002, January 14). Vitamin C may improve Alzheimer's treatments. WebMD Medical News. Retrieved November 5, 2003, from

Mayo Clinic. (2002, May 1). Vitamins and minerals: How much do you need? Retrieved November 7, 2003, from 6DB9436.

National Academies Press. (1989). Recommended dietary allowances: 10th edition [electronic version]. Retrieved November 7, 2003, from

National Institutes of Health. (2002, June 25). Diet rich in foods with vitamin E may reduce Alzheimer's disease risk. Retrieved November 7, 2003, from

Wang, H. X., Wahlin, A., Basun, H., Fastbim, J., Winblad, B. & Fratiglioni, L. (2001, May 8). Vitamin B12 and folate in relation to the development of Alzheimer's disease. Neurology, 56(9), 1188-1194.

Quality Liquid MultiVitamin, Mineral and Whole Food Extract Formula

Liquid Multivitamin Product Review and Comparison Center