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Niacin may help protect against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease
A report published in the August 2004 Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry found a decreased risk of the development of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease associated with increased intake of the B vitamin niacin. A severe deficiency of the vitamin causes pellagra, a disease characterized by dementia and other symptoms.
The researchers followed 3,718 participants in the Chicago Health and Aging Project over a six year period. All subjects were aged 65 and older, and free of Alzheimer’s disease at the study’s onset. Food frequency questionnaires completed by the subjects provided information concerning the amount of niacin consumed from foods and supplements. Cognitive function was tested at three year intervals.
A random sample of 815 participants was evaluated for Alzheimer’s disease at three years, among whom 131 were diagnosed with the disease. Among this group, those whose niacin consumption from food and supplements was in the highest one-fifth as well as those whose intake was in the second and third highest fifths had a 70 percent lower adjusted risk of developing Alzheimer’s than those whose intake was in the lowest fifth. When niacin intake from food alone was calculated, similar protective benefits were found.
When niacin’s effect on cognitive decline was examined among the entire study population, it was found to slow the decline, an association that was strengthened when those with cardiovascular disease, low initial cognitive function scores, or less than twelve years education were excluded from the analysis. Cognitive decline among those whose intake of niacin was highest was 44 percent of the rate of those with the lowest intake.
The results of earlier studies suggest that niacin is involved in DNA synthesis and repair, and neural cell signaling. It also functions as a strong antioxidant in brain cells. The authors predict that the protective effect of niacin against cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease could have substantial public health implications if further research confirms their findings.