by Joanne Webb
This question and answer was discussed at the UW Public Forum held on May 17, 2000.
Q. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's dementia eight months ago and I have just recently taken charge of his care. I am in my fifties and I take vitamin E and ginkgo biloba as preventative measures against future memory loss. I am wondering if these substances would be any benefit to my father's cognitive processes now that he already has Alzheimer's disease or is it simply too late for these substances to help him?
A. Neither Vitamin E or Ginkgo Biloba are a cure for Alzheimer's disease, but that being said there is some evidence to suggest that both of these substances may provide some mild benefits to people suffering from AD and may even slow the progress of the disease somewhat. While this is a positive note, it is important to remember that Vitamin E, Ginkgo Biloba and a number of other commonly known herbal supplements thin the blood, so none of these substances should be given to your father without the knowledge and consent of his doctor and pharmacist. Any substance that thins the blood, no matter how "natural", could cause serious complications by itself or in combination with other prescription drugs your father may take.
Educating yourself by doing some reading on the subject of herbs and vitamins and how they work in the body might be helpful before sitting down with your father's physician to discuss changes or additions to current medications. There is a lot of material written on the subject of vitamins and healing herbs but the following books and web sites are either written by MDs or by professionals with credentials in the field of pharmacology.