Alzheimer's and supplements: omega 3 oils and B vitamins

Major news outlets are excitedly reporting the story of a study lead by professor David Smith that suggests common supplements may slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, mainly affecting elderly people. The UK's Alzheimer's Society reckons the financial cost of Alzheimer's in the UK in 2015 will be £26 billion.

"This is a very exciting and important result," the professor told the Daily Express. "It is the first treatment to show Alzheimer's related brain shrinkage can be prevented. It means that something so simple as keeping your omega-3 levels high and supplementing B vitamins if you are at risk could dramatically reduce a person's risk."

The professor suggests that people showing the early stages of Alzheimer's disease should immediately start taking omega 3 oils, and vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid.

When you are discussing your health with your osteopath, they may ask questions about your family background, the health of your relatives, and about your diet. Some osteopaths are particularly interested in the effect of nutrition and diet on health.

There is one pithy aphorism relating to nutrition that is often quoted:

"Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants." — Michael Pollan

While this advice cuts away most of the complexity regarding nutrition, and replaces it with a simple guiding principle, we still need to continue doing basic science to uncover the influence of diet on disease.

Personally I think that humans are a generalist species - we shouldn't attempt to specialise, we should stretch ourselves with variety. This goes for diet as much as for anything else, including physical movement.

More about the supplements that were examined:

Omega oils come a wide variety, often grouped as omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9. The specific omega 3 oils that were investigated were eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. These are found in fish and fish oils. Vegetarians may wish to use algae sources of omega 3 oils to ensure they get enough in their diet.

Vitamins B6 and B12 are known as "essential" vitamins, meaning that they are essential to life.

Vitamin B6 is sometimes known as pyridoxine. It helps form red blood cells and has been shown repeatedly to help maintain brain function.

Vitmain B12 may be known as cobalamine, and helps maintain the central nervous system which includes the brain. It also contributes to the health of red blood cells.

Folic acid is also known as folate. It works with vitamin B12 to help red blood cells to form, and also helps in the production of DNA. It has long been recommended for pregnant women to reduce the risk of some birth defects.

The full study is available online at