Dr Jernerén: In our most recent publication on VITACOG, we describe an interaction effect between the B vitamin treatment and circulating levels of omega-3 fatty acids on brain atrophy. The higher the baseline concentration of combined omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), the greater the protective effect of the B vitamin treatment on brain atrophy.
In subjects with high omega-3 status, B vitamin treatment reduced brain atrophy rates by 40%. In subjects with high omega-3 status, who also had high homocysteine levels at baseline (indicating insufficient B vitamin levels), the B vitamin treatment reduced brain atrophy rates by almost 70%. Interestingly, B vitamin treatment had no protective effect in subjects with poor omega-3 status.
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The research has excited health experts worldwide and could lead to new public health advice on the treatment of early stage dementia using nutritional supplements.
Researchers analysed people over 70 who had memory problems. They found brain atrophy was slowed by 70 per cent in patients who had high levels of these nutrients.
Oxford professor David Smith, who lead the study, said: “This is a very exciting and important result. It is the first treatment to show Alzheimer’s related brain shrinkage can be prevented. It means that something so simple as keeping your omega-3 levels high and supplementing B vitamins if you are at risk could dramatically reduce a person’s risk.”
Researchers analysed MRI scans in 168 patients with early signs of dementia and measured the shrinkage of their brains over 24 months.
Those with high levels of omega-3 fish oils in their blood but low levels of B vitamins at the start of the study, who were given B vitamin supplements, showed a dramatic reduction in the rate of brain atrophy compared to those given dummy pills.
The study was in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and presented at the Alzheimer’s Disease International Conference in Australia.
Previous studies by the Oxford group found B vitamins could help slow brain shrinkage to a lesser degree and a link between fish oils and prevention of dementia.
However, this study examining high levels of both is the first to show brain shrinkage can be arrested altogether.