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Ask Tufts Experts October 2014 Issue

Q. I read about a study that found individuals with a high intake of vitamin E had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. I have been taking 1,000 IU daily. Now I read in your newsletter (June 2014) that men taking vitamin E supplements were more likely to get prostate cancer. What should I do?

A. One recent study did show a small benefit for vitamin E supplementation in slowing the progression of patients who already had mild or moderate Alzheimer’s (see the April 2014 newsletter). But that’s not the case for preventing Alzheimer’s. Tammy Scott, PhD, a scientist at Tufts’ HNRCA Nutrition and Neurocognition Laboratory, says, “Results from previous studies of vitamin E supplementation in healthy adults did not show a benefit to cognitive function or a reduction of cognitive decline.”

It’s true that two studies published in JAMA in 2002 found that high intake of vitamin E was associated with lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. But both those studies saw a benefit only from dietary intake. One of the studies also looked at vitamin E supplementation and reported no significant association with Alzheimer’s risk.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “So far, the research provides little evidence that taking vitamin E supplements can help healthy people or people with mild mental functioning problems to maintain brain health.”

Vitamin E deficiency is very rare in healthy people, so it’s unlikely you need supplements to insure adequate intake. Besides the possibility of increased prostate-cancer risk, the NIH warns that high-dose supplements of vitamin E might increase the risk of bleeding by reducing the blood’s ability to form clots after a cut or injury and of serious bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).

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