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21 April 2013
Cognitive decline: vitamins and supplements just wishful thinking

A review of medical trials involving 25,000 patients has found no evidence that supplements and vitamins can help ward off cognitive decline in older age.

However, the review, conducted at St. Michael's Hospital (Canada), found some evidence that mental exercises, such as memory training programs, might help.

"This review provides some evidence to help clinicians and their patients address what strategies might prevent cognitive decline," said lead author of the review, Raza Naqvi, from the University of Toronto.

Mild cognitive impairment affects 10 - 25 per cent of people over the age of 70. It is characterized by reduced memory, judgment, and decision-making skills.

The review took in the results from 32 randomized clinical trials. It found no strong evidence for pharmacologic treatments such as cholinesterase inhibitors that were developed to improve the effectiveness of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that assists memory, thought and judgment.

Nor was there strong evidence that herbal supplements such as gingko improved cognitive functions or vitamins and fatty acids such as vitamin B6 or omega-3 fatty acids. Naqvi said that evidence on the value of physical exercise, such as strength-training, was also weak.

The strongest evidence was for the value of mental exercises such as computerized training programs or intensive one-on-one personal cognitive training in memory, reasoning, or speed of processing.

"We encourage researchers to consider easily accessible tools such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku that have not been rigorously studied," Naqvi concluded. "The studies in this review that assessed cognitive exercises used exercises that were both labor- and resource-intensive, and thus may not be applicable to most patients."

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Source: St. Michael's Hospital

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