Vitamin E Combats Alzheimer’s
Although there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there is an accelerating worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset or prevent it from developing. Several therapeutic pharmaceutical options, such cholinesterase inhibitors, may help symptoms in patients with mild stage disease but only offering a modest benefit.
A risk factor for Alzheimer’s is oxidative stress, a clinical condition characterized by an excessive production of reactive chemicals called free radicals, which can damage cells in important regions of the brain and other organs. Antioxidants, and particularly vitamin E, may be helpful in fighting oxidative stress, preventing cell injury and ultimately protecting the neurons and brain function.
Vitamin E is often referred to as the “master” antioxidant. Unlike some vitamins, which consist of a single compound, vitamin E consists of eight different compounds, four tocopherols and four tocotrienols (designated as alpha, beta, gamma and delta). Food contains all eight compounds, yet most supplements contain only alpha-tocopherol. Research has shown that the other forms of tocopherols and tocotrienols have even stronger antioxidant properties. Gamma-tocopherol in particular is very effective in destroying the harmful nitrogen free radicals. Studies have suggested that gamma-tocopherol may be beneficial for Alzheimer because of this unique ability to fight the nitrogen free radicals which have been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases. Current research suggests that tocotrienols may also help with cognitive function.
Research from the Alzheimer’s Cooperative Society reported as early as 1997 their findings on the effectiveness of vitamin E and selegiline (then a commonly used drug for Alzheimer’s). Vitamin E was found to be as effective as selegiline in slowing progression of the disease. A population-based study published in 2002 showed that a diet rich in foods containing vitamin E reduced the risk of progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Another study published by scientists in the Netherlands also reported a link between high dietary intake of vitamin C and vitamin E and protection against Alzheimer’s.
A recently published report further substantiates the benefits of vitamin E for Alzheimer’s patients. High-dose vitamin E combined with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) slowed the decline of mental and physical abilities in people with Alzheimer’s over a period of five years. After an average of three years, there was a modest slowing in the progression of the disease in those patients taking vitamin E, and the benefit increased with time. Although the effect of the NSAIDs alone was very small in slowing long-term decline in cognitive function, combination with vitamin E showed an additive effect in terms of slowing overall decline. Further studies are needed to determine the risks and benefits of high dose vitamin E as well as the appropriate dose.
While research shows that vitamin E can be used in the treatment of mildly or moderately impaired Alzheimer’s patients, it is more important to focus on the role it may play in preventing Alzheimer’s. Neurodegenerative diseases develop very slowly and it can be decades before any of the debilitating symptoms appear. And by then most of the damage to the brain and nerve tissue is done and the damage is irreversible. The brain and nerve tissue stock up on antioxidants much more slowly that other tissues and it may take months to enrich the brain with vitamin E. Therefore, starting early is key in prevention.
The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: Alzheimer’s disease is a growing problem. It’s becoming more and more common, and in fact, affects as many as 4.5 million Americans. Your best defense is to start focusing on prevention as early as possible. Research has demonstrated the protective effects of natural, full spectrum vitamin E on the brain. Consider taking a supplement that provides the complete range of tocopherols and tocotrienols, and specifically, high levels of gamma-tocopherol as part of your prevention strategy.
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Article updated on: June 9th, 2009