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Long-Term Beta Carotene May Be Neuroprotective in Men

But clinicians need to weigh risks and benefits of beta carotene supplementation

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Beta carotene appears to modestly improve cognitive measures in men who take it for more than 15 years, according to study findings published in the Nov. 12 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Francine Grodstein, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues compared measures of cognitive function in 5,956 men who were randomized to either beta carotene or placebo as part of the Physicians' Health Study and its continuation, the Physicians' Health Study II. The primary end point was a global score averaging measures of cognition, verbal memory and category fluency.

Among 1,904 newly recruited participants who were treated for an average of one year, there were no significant differences in cognition between groups. Of the 4,052 men in the original study who were treated an average of 18 years, those taking beta carotene had modestly higher mean global scores compared to those taking placebo. Beta carotene use was also associated with improved performance on verbal memory testing compared to placebo.

An associated editorial reviews conflicting data regarding antioxidants and concludes that present evidence is not sufficient to recommend the use of beta carotene or other antioxidants for neuroprotection. Rather, "there is new concern that high-dose antioxidant supplementation, including beta carotene, may have adverse health consequences including mortality," writes the author of the editorial.

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