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Vitamin E For Brain Protection

July 11, 2011

According to researchers at The Ohio State University, taking a specific natural form of vitamin E may be particularly helpful as a prevention step for people considered at the highest risk for a major stroke: those who have previously suffered a ministroke or a temporary stoppage of blood flow in the brain—of the almost 800,000 strokes in the US each year, 25 percent are estimated to be repeat events, according to the American Heart Association.

Their recent study showed that 10 weeks of preventive supplementation with the natural form of vitamin E called tocotrienol in dogs that later had strokes reduced overall brain tissue damage, prevented loss of neural connections and helped sustain blood flow in the animals’ brains.

Vitamin E occurs naturally in eight different forms, and the most commonly known form of vitamin E belongs to a variety called tocopherols. This work led by Ohio State University scientists focused on the tocotrienol form, also known as TCT. Though alpha-tocotrienol is the form of vitamin E known for its protection of brain cells, the supplement for this study was 200 milligrams of mixed tocotrienols to make it more accessible and affordable.

In the study, 24 hours after a stroke, lesions indicating brain tissue damage were about 80 percent smaller in dogs that received supplementation than were the lesions in dogs that received no intervention. Imaging tests showed that the treated animals’ brains had better blood flow at the stroke site as compared to untreated dogs’ brains, a difference attributed to tiny collateral blood vessels’ ability to improve circulation in the brain when blood flow stopped in more substantial vessels.

“For the first time, in this pre-clinical large-animal model, we were able to see something that we were never able to see in the mouse or the rat: that if you had a stroke and you had prophylactically taken tocotrienol, the area of the brain affected by the stroke received blood flow from the collaterals,” said Chandan Sen, professor and vice chair for research in Ohio State’s Department of Surgery and senior author of the study. “These collaterals, which are an emergency response system, wake up when the blood circulation in the brain is challenged.”

Sen and colleagues have spent the past 10 years documenting in cell cultures and rodents how this form of vitamin E protects brain cells from dying after the insult of a stroke. They say that the results of this large-animal study offer the last piece of evidence needed to validate testing the nutritional supplement’s protection against stroke in humans. A phase II trial of its effectiveness in humans is in the planning stages.

Although a common component of the typical Southeast Asian diet, TCT is not abundant in the American diet, but it is readily available in certain dark green leafy vegetables. Excellent sources of vitamin E include mustard greens, turnip greens and chard, as well as sunflower seeds. Very good sources include almonds and spinach. Good sources include collard greens, parsley, kale, papaya, olives, bell pepper, brussels sprouts, kiwi, tomato, blueberries and broccoli.

While many experts say it’s best to get your vitamins, including E, through food, it’s possible to get tocotrienol in vitamin E supplements. But you have to read the labels. Most vitamin E supplements contain a single natural form of the vitamin, the better known alpha-tocopherol—specifically a form of alpha-tocopherol called d-alpha tocopherol or d-alpha tocopheryl acetate. You want the entire family of E vitamins, both tocopherols and tocotrienols, in their natural, not synthetic, form.