Photograph: Joshua Harvey
An Oxford University research team investigating new ways of slowing the advance of dementia has announced new findings amid calls for greater and better-targeted funding for dementia research.
The team, led by Professor David Smith, found that the advance of brain atrophy – one of the most important and harmful symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s – is up to 70 per cent slower in patients with higher levels of B vitamins and omega-3.
As part of the study, patients with high levels of omega-3 but lower levels of B vitamins in their blood showed marked improvement when supplemented with these vitamins. Health experts believe these findings could lead to updated medical advice on the treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia in the NHS, which has profound implications for patients.
Professor Smith told Cherwell, “Our earlier work showed that just inadequate status (not frank deficiency) of certain B vitamins was asso- ciated with more rapid brain atrophy and that giving supplements of these vitamins could slow down the atrophy and also slow down memory decline in people with mild cognitive impairment.
“This was actually the first demonstration that the disease process early in Alzheimer’s could be slowed down. What we have now shown is that this protective effect of B vitamins is only found in people who have a good omega-3 fatty acids status... what we need to do now is a trial in people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease) of a combination of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.”
Dr Clare Walton, Research Communications Manager at the Alzheimer’s Society, however, stressed that more funding is needed to pro- vide conclusive results. She told Cherwell, “The research surrounding the role of B vitamins in influencing memory problems has so far been inconclusive. Larger studies are needed to fully understand the role that vitamins and fatty acids may play.”
The announcement comes at the same time as a separate study, also conducted at Oxford University, revealed that less than 1% of funding allocated to dementia and Alzheimer’s is spent on research.
By contrast, over 10% of funding given to cancer is allocated specifically to research. This study has led to calls for increased funding for dementia and Alzheimer’s research.