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Vitamin E: The ‘overlooked’ nutrient and itsbrain health benefits

12.20.2018

With over 90% of Americans not consuming the RDA for vitamin E, and most people eating less than half of the RDA, there exists a significant opportunity to educate consumers on the benefits of this ‘overlooked’ nutrient, including for brain health.

“Because pharmacological doses of vitamin E were not a magic bullet in preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease, scientists and health professionals have dismissed vitamin E as a nutrient of interest,” said Michael McBurney, PhD, director of scientific affairs for DSM Nutritional Products, North America. “This is unfortunate for two reasons,” he added. “Firstly, those randomized controlled trials were conducted at a time when most people were supplementing with vitamin E and the intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids was much lower, and, secondly, vitamin E intakes have fallen since 2006.”

Indeed, data from longitudinal studies shows that the prevalence of vitamin E supplementation has fallen from 44.3% in 2002 to 19.8% in 2006, added Dr McBurney.

“Vitamin E is an overlooked nutrient,” he added. “Like dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines of America should have declared vitamin E as a ‘nutrient of concern’ because ‘What We Eat in America’ finds that over 90% of Americans are not consuming the Vitamin E RDA. And the situation is worsening.”

In the context of brain health, Dr McBurney explained that vitamin E’s antioxidant effects play a key role protecting membranes for oxidation, and omega-3 fatty acids from peroxidation (97% of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is found in the brain). “Free radicals are thought to be important mediators of oxidative stress in the brain which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and stress,” he said. “Reduced levels of vitamin E and biomarkers of oxidative stress have been measured in individuals with Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment.”

The vitamin E family

There are eight forms of vitamin E: Four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta). The majority of the science in the past has looked at vitamin E in the alpha-tocopherol form in the context of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and eye disease. Recent data from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden has indicated that all plasma vitamin E forms may play a role in brain health.

A paper published in the Neurobiology of Aging found that the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) was 15% and 8% lower in people with the highest levels of tocopherols and tocotrienols, respectively. There was also a link to Alzheimer’s Diseases, said the researchers: Participants with MCI and Alzheimer’s also displayed higher blood levels of markers of vitamin E damage (alphatocopherylquinone, 5-nitro-gamma-tocopherol).

“In our study, the depletion of all plasma vitamin E forms, together with the increased indexes of vitamin E oxidative/nitrosative damage were shown in both AD and MCI, supporting the hypothesis that [oxidative and nitrosative stress] are early phenomena in AD, and suggesting a potential role of vitamin E in neurodegeneration,” they said.



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