Vitamins and Cognitive Health
Vitamin E had been shown essential to preventing muscle dyscontrol and paralysis in new born rats in 1941. The link between nutritional factors in cognitive health was first established in the 1980s when a 1983 study of 260 health adults taking no medications aged over 60 with higher blood concentrations of vitamins (folate, B12, C etc.) showed better cognitive performance (nonverbal abstract thinking on the Categories Test and the Wechsler Memory Test).

Another small
study published in 1997 of 137 66-90 year old community dwelling individuals found similar cognitive improvement (memory, visuospatial and abstraction test scores) in adults who had been taking self-selected vit. A, E, B-6 and B-12 supplements. Also, in 1997 a study looking at 442 people aged 65-94 taking vit. C and beta-carotene for many years showed better recall, recognition and vocabulary–especially for semantic memory. Then a larger multi-ethnic (almost 5000 older White, Black and Mexican-Americans) study showed improved verbal short-term memory linked to vit. E, but not to vit. A, C, beta-carotene or selenium.

More support for vit. E came in 2000 with a tiny
study of 16 centenarians (one male and 15 female aged 101-105) in Poland found they had higher blood levels of vit. E. Finally, a study of 120 people aged 65-91 reported that cognitive test scores could be improved when those with low vit. E received supplements for just five days. Overall, the race to see if vitamin E (α-tocopherol) could help Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients was off and running. A detailed history, from which the above information is summarized, is available is this 2014 article, for the intrepid. Of all vitamins and nutrients, vitamin E has been the most promising for having a role in slowing/preventing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and/or its precursor stage, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Read more about the research with vit. E in the next section, which has been disappointing. And, the financial incentives that have distorted the recommendation for other supplemental vitamins, like D, are also described.

How to Vitamins Work?
The long-standing theory behind vitamins is that they promote health by acting as “antioxidants.” Food is converted into energy by a process called oxidation, since (like fire) oxygen is required to process or burnt fuel we eat. This occurs in tiny components in all animals cells called mitochondria. Of course, whenever you burn something, debris is left behind–oxidation does not fully consume the food that is burned.

Vitamins and Health–or not.

In 1994, the National Cancer Institute, in collaboration with Finland's National Public Health Institute, studied 29,000 Finnish men, all long-term smokers more than fifty years old. This group was chosen because they were at high risk for cancer and heart disease. Subjects were given vitamin E, beta-carotene, both, or neither. The results were clear: those taking vitamins and supplements were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease.

In 1996, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, studied 18,000 people who, because they had been exposed to asbestos, were at increased risk of lung cancer. Again, subjects received vitamin A, beta-carotene, both, or neither. Investigators ended the study abruptly when they realized that those who took vitamins and supplements were dying from cancer and heart disease at rates 28 and 17 percent higher, respectively, than those who didn't.

In 2004, the University of Copenhagen reviewed fourteen randomized trials involving more than 170,000 people who took vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene to see whether antioxidants could prevent intestinal cancers… The authors concluded, "We could not find evidence that antioxidant supplements can prevent gastrointestinal cancers; on the contrary, they seem to increase overall mortality." When these same researchers evaluated the seven best studies, they found that death rates were 6 percent higher in those taking vitamins.• In 2005, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine evaluated 19 studies involving more than 136,000 people and found an increased risk of death associated with supplemental vitamin E. Dr. Caballero, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at JH, said, "This reaffirms what others have said. The evidence for supplementing with any vitamin, particularly vitamin E, is just not there. This idea that people have that [vitamins] will not hurt them may not be that simple." That same year, a study published in JAMA evaluated more than 9,000 people who took high-dose vitamin E to prevent cancer; those who took vitamin E were more likely to develop heart failure than those who didn't.

In 2007, the National Cancer Institute examined 11,000 men who did or didn't take multivitamins. Those who took multivitamins were twice as likely to die from advanced prostate cancer.

In 2008, a review of all existing studies involving more than 230,000 people who did or did not receive supplemental antioxidants found that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease.

On October 10, 2011, the University of Minnesota evaluated 39,000 older women and found that those who took supplemental multivitamins, magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron died at rates higher than those who didn't. They concluded, "Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements."

Two days later, on October 12, the Cleveland Clinic published the results of a study of 36,000 men who took vitamin E, selenium, both, or neither. They found that those receiving vitamin E had a 17 percent greater risk of prostate cancer. In response to the study, Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the CC, said, "The concept of multivitamins was sold to Americans by an eager nutraceutical industry to generate profits. There was never any scientific data supporting their usage." On October 25, a headline in the Wall Street Journal asked, "Is This the End of Popping Vitamins?" Studies haven't hurt sales. In 2010, the vitamin industry grossed $28 billion, up 4.4 percent from the year before. "The thing to do with [these reports] is just ride them out," said Joseph Fortunato, chief executive of General Nutrition Centers. "We see no impact on our business."

The above all come from an article in the Atlantic (see section on vit. C). This summarizes the literature only through 2013 when the Atlantic article was published.

In Sum

You are probably best off taking a standard multi-vitamin which provides the recommended daily amount of each vitamin. If you don’t get much sun by staying indoors, have signs of osteoporosis or low vitamin D in your lab results you should talk with your doctor about a vit. D supplement, as it helps you process calcium. One thing for sure is that high dosing with vitamins that are processed hepatically (by your liver not kidneys) can lead to harm and even death. CoQ10 is popular, but support for its use is weak and, again, never take high doses of it. We’ll review in detail the major antioxidant vitamins in the following pages.

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