Study into whether folic acid and other B vitamins can help slow dementia

The world's largest ever study into a possible link between B vitamins and Alzheimer's disease is to be based at Oxford University. The three-year research project aims to show conclusively whether the vitamin can help to slow memory decline in the elderly.

Researchers will study whether folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 have an effect on the memory of over four thousand older people in the UK, the Netherlands, and Norway. It will include a clinical trial of B vitamin treatment in three hundred people in Oxford, who have experienced some memory loss. The results of the study, to be completed in 2008, could help in developing new treatments and ways of preventing dementia. The Alzheimer's Research Trust is funding the research, which is also supported by the Medical Research Council and other charities. In the past, large scale B vitamin research of this kind has led to the discovery that by taking folic acid, mothers could help to prevent the risk of neural tube defects in unborn babies. This resulted in public health campaigns promoting the benefits of the vitamin both in the UK and abroad.

B vitamins are responsible for providing energy to the body during the conversion of glucose, for the metabolism of fats and proteins, and maintaining the body's nervous system. A link between B vitamins and dementia was first established in two UK studies, including one by the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA) in 1998.

Professor David Smith, Director of OPTIMA at the University's Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, said: ‘Evidence has shown that a low level of B vitamins is associated with cognitive decline in the elderly, but important evidence is lacking about which particular B vitamins are involved. If our clinical trial indicates that specific B vitamins do play a part in slowing memory loss by reducing the rate of brain shrinkage in the elderly, we will be one step away from clinically proving that increasing intake of B vitamins is a viable way to treat or prevent Alzheimer's.'

OPTIMA is still recruiting for the study and is interested to hear from anyone in Oxfordshire over 70 who is worried about their memory. You can contact OPTIMA on (01865) 224356

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