Researchers report that huge doses of an ordinary vitamin appeared to eliminate memory problems in mice with the rodent equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease. In the study, researchers looked at nicotinamide, a form of Vitamin B3 that is found in foods such as pork, peanuts, turkey, chicken, veal, fish, salmon, swordfish, tuna and sunflower seeds.
Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 5.2 million Americans, causing senility and often leading to death. It is the seventh leading cause of death nationwide and the fifth leading cause of death for those over age 65. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the disease will strike one in eight Baby Boomers. There’s no cure for the neurodegenerative condition, and medications have only limited effects.
Increasing age is the greatest risk factor for AD. In most people with the disease, symptoms first appear after the age 65. About one in 10 individuals over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 are affected. Some inherited forms of AD can strike individuals as early as their 30s and 40s. From the time of diagnosis, those with the disease survive about half as long as those of similar age without dementia.
Previous research has suggested that vitamins such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin B12 may help people lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In the nicotinamide study, researchers genetically engineered mice to develop the equivalent of human Alzheimer’s disease. They tested their memory by putting them in a shallow pool of water and seeing if they could remember the location of a platform that would allow them to emerge from the water.
The researchers then gave Vitamin B3 to some of the mice; the amount was equal to about 2 grams to 3 grams of the vitamin for humans, The mice were again tested in the pool. The forgetful mice who took the vitamin did well. According to the researchers, the mice were cognitively cured and they performed as if they had never developed the disease.
The vitamin appears to work by clearing “tangles” of a protein known as tau in brain cells. In Alzheimer’s disease, the protein becomes poisonous and contributes to dangerous clogging inside brain cells. The vitamin holds promise for people, because it’s inexpensive (a year’s supply costs about $30) and appears to be safe.