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Published: 1 October 2012  
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Vitamin C and beta-carotene can help fight dementia

Can vitamin C and beta-carotene help protect people from dementia? New research from Germany suggests they can. University of Ulm scientists investigated the effect of antioxidants on the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease. Presented in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, the results indicate that it is possible to influence the pathogenesis of this neurological disorder through the use of dietary antioxidants or even a change in diet. The study was funded in part by the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).

Vitamin C in oranges does the body good © Shutterstock
Vitamin C in oranges does the body good
©  Shutterstock

Around 700 000 people in Germany are diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease. Symptoms include lack of orientation, cognitive decline and absentmindedness, triggered by amyloid beta plaques, degeneration of fibrillae and synapse loss. Evaluating 74 Alzheimer's patients and 158 healthy controls between the ages of 65 and 90, the researchers discovered that the serum concentration of the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene are much lower in patients with mild dementia than in control persons. It should be noted that the subjects were gender-matched and of the same age. The subjects' blood and body mass index (BMI) were measured for the study as well.

The researchers said that oxidative stress contributes to the development of Alzheimer's disease. Oxidative stress constrains the exploitation of oxygen in humans. The team believes that so-called antioxidants could potentially protect the body against neurodegeneration.

For the purposes of their study, the scientists looked at whether the serum levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene and coenzyme Q10 are much lower in the blood of patients suffering from Alzheimer's.

'In order to possibly influence the onset and development of Alzheimer's disease, we need to be aware of potential risk factors,' said Dr Gabriele Nagel of the University of Ulm.

The team found that the concentration of vitamin C and beta-carotene in the serum of Alzheimer's patients was much lower than in the blood of control subjects. No such difference was observed between the groups with respect to the other antioxidants (vitamin E, lycopene and coenzyme Q10). The researchers included potential confounding factors like BMI, civil status, education, and consumption of alcohol and tobacco in their statistical analysis.

They found that the storage and preparation of food, and stressors in the patients' lives could have impacted the findings. 'Longitudinal studies with more participants are necessary to confirm the result that vitamin C and beta-carotene might prevent the onset and development of Alzheimer’s disease,' said Dr Nagel.

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University of Ulm
Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

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