Caution urged over using vitamin B3 to treat Alzheimer's


People have been cautioned about rushing out to buy high dose vitamin B3 supplements in an attempt to prevent memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease until research on their effectiveness or otherwise
in slowing the progression of the condition in humans is proven.

The warnings came today one day on from the announcement that the vitamin pills are to be used in human trials after scientists at the University of California found they protected mice from memory loss
associated with Alzheimer's.

The researchers, led by Dr Kim Green, tested the animals' memories over four months by seeing how well they remembered the location of a submerged platform in a large water tank. At the end of the trial the mice with
Alzheimer's performed as well in the memory test as healthy mice, suggesting the vitamin had protected their brains from memory loss. Healthy mice fed the vitamins also outperformed mice on a normal diet.

"This suggests that not only is it good for Alzheimer's disease, but if normal people take it, some aspects of their memory might improve," said Frank LaFerla, a co-author on the study.

High doses of vitamin B3 will now be given to 70 people who have recently been diagnosed with the disease as part of the human clinical trial due to begin in the new year.

But Sarah O'Callaghan, spokeswoman for the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland, said it was important to await the results of the clinical trial before people started making changes in their diet or started taking supplements. Vitamins in high doses can be toxic.

"We would always be conscious of raising expectations," she said. "But its an interesting development and if human clinical trials do get started, hopefully it will lead to something," she added.

She stressed that anyone concerned about memory difficulties should contact their GP because the earlier a person is diagnosed the better.

The Alzheimer's Society of Ireland can also be contacted for help and support at 1800 341 341.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease.