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Vitamin E Protects Nerve Health

By Greg Arnold, DC, CSCS, January 19, 2010, abstracted from “Nanomolar vitamin E  -tocotrienol inhibits glutamate-induced activation of phospholipase A2 and causes neuroprotection” printed online December 17, 2009 in the Journal of Neurochemistry

Vitamin E was first discovered in 1922.  It was named tocopherol, from the Greek word “tokos” meaning childbirth (because it supported fertility), “phero” meaning to bring forth, and “ol” to indicate the alcohol properties of vitamin E.  As an essential, fat soluble vitamin, vitamin E functions as an antioxidant in the human body.  

There are two types of vitamin E: tocopherols and tocotrienols, each of which has four different forms (alpha, beta, gamma, delta), giving a total of eight different forms called isomers.  Most of the research on vitamin E has shown it offers benefits in a number of areas, including lung health (1), heart health (2), and eye health (3).  But these studies have been done on tocopherol, not tocotrienols.

Yet tocotrienols are just as effective as tocopherols for preserving health (4).  Research over the past decade has shown that vitamin E tocotrienols very effectively help protect nerve health (5, 6, 7), especially after a stroke.  There are 700,000 new stroke cases each year, and it is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind cancer and heart disease.  However, it causes more serious long-term disabilities than any other disease.  Nearly three out of every four strokes occur in people over the age of 65.  For each decade after the age of 55, your risk of stroke doubles (8).

Now a new study (9) has suggested how vitamin E helps protect nerve health in nerve-damaging diseases like stroke.  It was found to be so effective that this nerve-protecting property is “the most potent of all biological functions exhibited by any natural vitamin E molecule”.  

In the study, researchers looked at vitamin E’s ability to control activity of a protein called PLA2, known to be “an important player” in the regulation of normal cell function of the central nervous system (10).  They obtained tissue samples from pigs (called HT4 cells) and initially exposed them to a placebo or a protein called glutamate.  This protein increases PLA2 activity and results in the release of a fat called arachidonic acid, signifying an early event along the “death pathway” of nerve cells.   Compared to placebo, levels of arachidonic acid were 10 times higher in the glutamate-exposed cells, indicating high levels of PLA2 activity caused by glutamate.

The researchers then took the glutamate-exposed cells and exposed them to vitamin E tocotrienols (250 nanomolar).  The researchers noted that vitamin E “significantly” inhibited arachidonic acid release from cells compared to the same in cells treated with glutamate alone.  Specifically, arachidonic acid levels in the vitamin E cells were 45% lower than the glutamate group without vitamin E.

For the researchers, “This work presents first evidence recognizing glutamate-induced changes in cPLA2 as a [new] mechanism responsible for [nerve protection] observed in response to nanomolar concentrations of [vitamin E tocotrienols].”

Greg Arnold is a Chiropractic Physician practicing in Danville, CA.  You can contact Dr. Arnold directly by emailing him at mailto:PitchingDoc@msn.com or visiting his web site at www.PitchingDoc.com


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2. H.E. Poulsen, Antioxidant Supplementation in Atherosclerosis Prevention (ASAP) study: a randomized trial of the effect of vitamins E and C on 3-year progression of carotid atherosclerosis, Journal of Internal Medicine 248 (2000) (5), pp. 377–386.
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7. Khanna S., Roy S., Ryu H., Bahadduri P., Swaan P. W., Ratan R. R. and Sen C. K. (2003) Molecular basis of vitamin E action: tocotrienol modulates 12-lipoxygenase, a key mediator of glutamate-induced neurodegeneration. J Biol Chem 278, 43508-43515.
8. “About Stroke” posted on the National Institutes of Health Website http://nihseniorhealth.gov/stroke/aboutstroke/01.html
9. Khanna S.  Nanomolar vitamin E  -tocotrienol inhibits glutamate-induced activation of phospholipase A2 and causes neuroprotection.  Jou Neurochemistry 2009.  Accepted Article Online: Dec 17 2009 10:02PM DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.06550.x
10. Sun G. Y., Xu J., Jensen M. D. and Simonyi A. (2004) Phospholipase A2 in the central nervous system: implications for neurodegenerative diseases. J Lipid Res 45, 205-213.