A study published last year claiming that B vitamins play no role in preventing dementia is coming under sharp criticism.
Medical experts are concerned that patients who are in the earliest stages of dementia could miss out on a potentially effective treatment if they follow the research which they say is misleading.
The experts strongly criticize the Oxford researchers for their conclusion that “Taking folic acid and vitamin B-12 is sadly not going to prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” in an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Clinicians and scientists believe the authors’ comments to be “inaccurate and misleading.” The experts further raise concerns that such a claim could have a negative effect on patient welfare and also bias research funding and health policy decisions.
Peter Garrard, M.D., Ph.D., of the Cardiovascular and Cell Sciences Research Institute at St George’s, University of London, said that the analysis of previous clinical trial data published last year cast no doubt whatsoever on the potential of folic acid and vitamin B-12 to prevent dementia, and that the previous researchers’ statements were “unjustified.”
Garrard asserts that taking B vitamins lowers blood levels of a molecule (homocysteine), which in high concentrations acts as a significant risk factor for dementia. He said the “first-rate scientific evidence that the use of B vitamins confers both biological and neuropsychological benefits” on people over the age of 70 who had experienced a recent decline in their cognitive abilities.
He believes that a definitive trial needs to be conducted to establish whether the simple and safe treatment of taking B vitamins can slow cognitive deterioration in a similar group of people: those known to have a stronger risk for developing full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
Both Garrard and Dr. David Smith, founding director of the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing, sent separate letters to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which they pointed out several flaws in last year’s research, including the following points:
- reliance on data from trials of vascular disease prevention rather than dementia;
- the use of the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE), which is designed to detect dementia but is unsuitable for assessing small changes in cognitively normal people; and
- the absence of any cognitive decline in untreated patients, rendering the whole study irrelevant to the question of clinical benefits in cognitive impairment or dementia.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition features the new commentaries in its February 2015 edition.