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Is it possible that vitamin E can slow the effects of Alzheimer's disease — the ultimately fatal condition that robs people of the ability to remember and communicate, afflicts 4 million Americans and affects one-third of the families in the United States in some way? Perhaps.

A new study suggests that when vitamin E is taken along with standard Alzheimer's medicine, the disease's progression can be slowed. While medication is partly responsible for the effects seen in the study, researchers believe that combining drugs with vitamin E increases the benefits.

David Beversdorf, MD, of the Ohio State University Medical Center, compared patients over a 3-year period. Adding vitamin E supplements to the drug Aricept (donepezil) slowed the progression of Alzheimer's significantly.

"The decline in the treated group was about two and a half times the decline of the untreated," Beversdorf said in an interview. The study was published in the April/June 2003 issue of Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders.

You should not misconstrue this study to mean that vitamin E will prevent Alzheimer's. Nor should Alzheimer's patients add vitamin E to their regimen without consulting a doctor.

There are activities you can do to lower your risk of getting this disease. According to an editorial in the June 19, 2003 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), 'Very early influences help create the brain set of connections that ultimately allow — or avoid — dementia in later life." Although this includes genetic factors, a 2003 study confirmed earlier studies finding a link between mental exercise and a reduced chance of getting Alzheimer's.

That study — titled "Use It or Lose It" — was described in the same issue of NEJM. Researchers found that "seniors should be encouraged to read, play board games," do crossword puzzles and go ballroom dancing because "effortful mental activities" may protect against dementia of all kinds, including Alzheimer's.

22 Million
Number of pounds of antibiotics used in food animals in 2001. Of this total, a worrisome 50 percent was fed to animals to promote more rapid growth.

SOURCE: Animal Health Institute

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