Vitamin C and E and Cognitive Function in Women.




American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Cognitive Function Vitamin C Vitamin E
Professional Data: Cognitive Function Vitamin C Vitamin E


Cognitive function is the term used to describe a person's state of consciousness (alertness and orientation), memory, and attention span. A mental status examination (MSE) is a standard test used by healthcare professionals to measure a patient's overall mental health. Evaluating a patient's cognitive function includes, first of all, measuring their level of alertness and orientation.

Causes of decreased cognitive function with dementias can occur due to a lack of proper nutrition in the diet. A lack of thiamine (vitamin B1) is known to cause Wernicke's encephalopathy (a condition of memory loss and other symptoms due to vitamin B1 loss from alcoholism). Such a patient has malnutrition, confusion, ataxia (loss of muscle coordination), and diplopia (double vision). A severe lack of vitamin B12, folic acid, or omega 3 fatty acids may cause dementia due to damage to nerve fibers in the brain. A lack of vitamin B3 (niacin), which causes the disease pellagra, and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) may cause spastic paraparesis (a type of paralysis), peripheral neuropathy (a condition affecting the nervous system), fatigue, irritability, and dementia.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that free radicals may be involved in the decline of cognition. The antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E fight against free radicals and in this study, researchers examined the intakes of these nutrients and cognitive function in women. Using questionnaires, women answered questions regarding supplement use. In addition, these women performed cognitive tests over the telephone. After collecting this data, the results showed that intake of E and C were significantly associated with better test performance. When these women had higher supplement use, the test scores also were higher. The use of vitamin C alone did not show substantial results. The authors of this study concluded that, “use of specific vitamin E supplements, but not specific vitamin C supplements, may be related to modest cognitive benefits in older women.”1


1. Grodstein F, et al. High-dose antioxidant supplements and cognitive function in community-dwelling elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr. Apr 2003;77(4):975-984.