Objectives: Aging processes, and among them brain aging, are thought to be associated with free radical action. It is hypothesized that plasma antioxidant vitamin levels correlate with cognitive performance in healthy older subjects.
Design: Longitudinal and cross-sectional comparisons.
Setting: The city of Basle, considered representative of the older urban population in Switzerland.
Participants: A total of 442 subjects aged 65 to 94 years (mean: 75 years; 312 male, 132 female) was selected from a random sample.
Measurements: In 1993, participants were tested for memory, and plasma vitamin levels were measured for the three antioxidants alpha-tocopherol, ascorbic acid, and beta-carotene. These vitamin parameters, measured previously in 1971 in the same sample, were integrated in our analyses. In addition, plasma cholesterol, ferritin, and systolic blood pressure were taken into account. Memory variables were priming, working-memory, free recall, recognition and the WAIS-R vocabulary test (semantic memory).
Results: Correlations showed significant stability of the plasma antioxidants over the time lag of 22 years (alpha-tocopherol: r = .47, P < or = .001; beta-carotene: r = .43, P < .001; ascorbic acid: r = .22, P < .001). Free recall, recognition, and vocabulary (but not priming and working-memory) correlated significantly with ascorbic acid and beta-carotene in the cross-sectional 1993 data as well as in the longitudinal 1971-1993 analysis. These two antioxidants remained significant predictors, especially of semantic memory, after controlling for possible confounding variables like age, education, and gender using multiple regression analyses and ANOVAs.
Conclusion: Among people aged 65 and older, higher ascorbic acid and beta-carotene plasma level are associated with better memory performance. These results indicate the important role played by antioxidants in brain aging and may have implications for prevention of progressive cognitive impairments.