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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Antioxidants, Vitamin E and Maintaining a Fat Head for Years

By Michael McBurney

Outside of fat deposits, the brain has the most fat per gram of any organ or tissue in our body. Anyone with a brain can be called ‘fathead’! Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid, represents 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids and 40% of the PUFA in the brain. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are very sensitive to oxidation and our brains can become rancid! Not surprisingly, antioxidant status affects brain health and function.

Low plasma antioxidant concentration is associated with increased risk of death in stroke patients. Iversen and colleagues analyzed 5-7y outcomes of 165 patients admitted to hospital for acute stroke. Baseline α-tocopherol , vitamin C, and total carotenoid concentrations were 28, 40 and 0.82 µmol/L, respectively. Having baseline total carotenoid concentrations above median levels significantly reduced risk of death.  The median level (28 µmol/L) of these patients was superior to most (~70%) of US adults 51+ years of age.

In elderly persons, vitamin C and E supplementation has been found to protect against vascular dementia, affecting cognitive function in late life (Masaki et al., 2000). Higher serum vitamin E concentrations are associated with lower risk of cognitive impairment. Another antioxidant, resveratrol, increased hippocampal functional connectivity in older adults supplemented with 200 mg daily (Witte et al., 2014) although the memory performance benefit could be attributable to increased blood flow to the brain.

Given the metabolic activity of the brain and its concentration of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants are essential to prevent lipid peroxidation by free radicals. Vitamin E has a pivotal role in maintaining the brain. Vitamin E is essential to protect the brain from the deteriorating effects of oxidative stress.

Main Citation

Iversen PO, Ha L, Blomhoff R, Hauge T, Veierod MB. Baseline oxidative defense and survival after 5-7 years among elderly stroke patients at nutritional risk: Follow-up of a randomized, nutritional intervention trial. 2014 Clin Nutr doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2014.07.002

Other Citations

Singh M. Essential fatty acids, DHA and human brain. 2005 Ind J Ped 72:239-242

McBurney MI, Yu E, Ciappio E, Bird J, Eggersdorfer M, Stoecklin E, Mehta S. Vitamin E status of the US adult population by use of dietary supplements. 2014 FASEB J 28(1):1041.7

Masaki KH, Losonczy KG, Izmirlian G, Foley DJ, Ross GW, Petrovitch H, Havlik R, White LR. Association of vitamin E and C supplement use with cognitive function and dementia in elderly men. 2000 Neurol doi: 10.1212/WNL.54.6.1265

Mangialasche F, Solomon A, Kareholt I, Hooshmand B, Cecchetti R, Fratiglioni L, Soininen H, Laatikainen T, Mecocci P, Kivipelto M. Serum levels of vitamin E forms and risk of cognitive impairment in a Finnish cohort of older adults. 2013 Exp Gerontol doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2013.09.006

Witte AV, Kerti L, Marqulies DS, Floel A. Effects of resveratrol on memory performance, hippocampal functional connectivity, and glucose metabolism in healthy older adults. J Neurosci doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0385-12.2014

Mocchegiani E, Costarelli L, Giacconi R, Malavolta M, Basso A, Piacenza F, Ostan R, Cevenini E, Gonos ES, Franceschi C, Monti D. Vitamin E-gene interactions in aging and inflammatory age-related diseases: Implications for treatment. A systematic review. 2014. Ageing Res Rev doi: 10.1016/j.arr.2014.01.001

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