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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Does Your Brain have the Vitamin E it Needs?

By Michael McBurney

Even though the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) identified vitamin E as a shortfall nutrient, very little attention has been devoted to vitamin E in recent years. The truth of the matter is that most randomized controlled trials with vitamin E were conducted in patients with chronic diseases, the generalizability of finding to healthy adults is uncertain, and the vitamin E status (serum α-tocopherol) of the volunteers is unknown.

Antioxidants, like vitamin E, vitamin C lutein and zeaxanthin, help maintain the integrity of cells against free radicals. They are co-located with polyunsaturated fatty acids within cellular membranes, within the brain, and the eye to protect them oxidative damage. Depending upon what we consume, our lifestyle, and the environment we live in, every person has some level of antioxidant vitamins in their tissues/blood. Those levels may influence health risk.

New research in zebrafish finds that vitamin E deficiency increases lipid peroxidation and negatively affects the development of brain cells and neurons. The study provides mechanistic insight into the positive effects of long-term vitamin E supplementation on the mental development of extremely low-birthweight children. It also corroborates findings from Norway that pathogenic mutations in the α-tocopherol transfer protein gene (TTPA) lead to a rare vitamin E-dependent neurological disorder.

Children, young adults, and non-Hispanic Blacks living in the United States have low serum α-tocopherol concentrations. Although 8 vitamin E isomers are found naturally, α-tocopherol is the most biologically active form and is preferentially retained in the body.

Circulating tocopherol concentrations reflect vitamin E intake. Low serum vitamin E concentrations are associated with increases risk of cognitive impairment in older adults.

Simplistic evaluations of randomization assignments do not elucidate the role of antioxidant status on brain health, or the effect on any tissue/organ. Nutrients are not drugs. Everybody eats. Everybody has some level of antioxidant status. We don’t need more vitamin E treatment vs control analyses without assessment of vitamin E status.

Without blood vitamin E measures, research will not help understand the role of antioxidant status on cellular function and human health.

Main Citation

Choi J, Leonard SW, Kasper K, McDougall M, Stevens JF, Tanguay RL, Traber MG. Novel function of vitamin E in regulation of zebrafish (Danio rerio) brain lysophospholipids discovered using lipidomics. 2015 J Lipid Res doi: 10.1194/jlr.M058941

Kitajima H, Kanazawa T, Mori R, Hirano S, Ogihara T, Fujimura M. Long-term alpha-tocopherol supplements may improve mental development in extremely low birthweight infants. 2015 Acta Paediatr doi: 10.1111/apa.12854

Other Citations

Miller ER, pastor-Barriuso R, Dalal D, Riemersma RA, Appel LJ, Guallar E. Meta-analysis: High-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality. 2005 Ann Intern Med doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-142-200501040-00110

Elkamil A, Johansen KK, Aasly J. Ataxia with vitamin E deficiency in Norway. 2015 J Mov Disord doi: 10.14802/jmd.14030

Pfeiffer CM, Steinberg MR, Schleicher RL, Haynes BMH, Rybak ME, Pirkle JL. The CDC’s Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population is a valuable tool for researchers and policymakers. 2013 J Nutr doi:10.3945/jn.112.172858

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 Geront doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2013.09.006

Christen WB, Glynn RJ, Gaziano JM, Darke AK, Crowley JJ, Goodman PJ, Lippman SM, Lad TE, Bearden JD, Goodman GE, Minasian LM, Thompson Jr IM, Blanke CD, Klein EA. Age-related cataract in men in the selenium and vitamin E cancer prevention trial eye endpoints study: A randomized clinical trial. 2015 JAMA Opthal doi: 10.1001/jamaopthalmol.2014.3478

Dysken MW, Sano M, Asthana S, Vertrees JE, Pallaki M, Liorente M, Love S, Schellenberg GD, McCarten JR, Malphurs J, Prieto S, Chen P, Loreck DJ, Trapp G, Bakshi RS, Mintzer JE, Heidebrink JL, Vidal-Cardona A, Arroyo LM, Cruz AR, Zachariah S, Kowall NW, Chopra MP, Craft S, Thielke S, Turvey CL, Woodman C, Monnell KA, Gordon K, Tomaska J, Segal Y, Peduzzi PN, Guarino PD. Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: The TEAM-AD VA Cooperative Randomized Trial. 2014 JAMA doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.282834