Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has always been tricky. Mostly because there’s no one definitive test that can identify this devastating condition.

It goes without saying that the more tools doctors have to identify Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages, the better. And that’s why I’m happy to report the results of a new study that recently appeared in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

This study looked at MRI results and serum vitamin E levels from just over 250 patients. Roughly two-thirds of the subjects had either Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment. The remainder served as healthy controls.

Results showed that evaluating a patient’s MRI results and vitamin E status together could increase that accuracy of Alzheimer’s diagnoses significantly.

The method also allowed researchers to identify the patients with mild cognitive impairment who would go on to develop Alzheimer’s after one year. As many as 85 percent of them, in fact.

This finding is important for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it gives doctors a new, non-invasive way of distinguishing future Alzheimer’s patients from their healthier peers in a clinical setting. Which means earlier intervention and better outcomes.

But maybe even more importantly, it suggests that filling up on a full spectrum of vitamin E–that is, a mix of all four tocotrienols and all four tocopherols–could go a long way in preserving brain function in the elderly.

In the fight against a disease with no cure–and only minimally effective drug treatments to date–I’d call this a pretty promising development.

“Classification and prediction of clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease based on MRI and plasma measures of a-/y-tocotrienols and y-tocopherol.” J Intern Med. 2013 Jan 24. doi: 10.1111/joim.12037.