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Gamma tocopherol, tocotrienols protect against cognitive impairment

Gamma tocopherol, tocotrienols protect against cognitive impairment

Tuesday, January 14, 2014. On the heels of the publication of a trial which found a deceleration in functional decline among Alzheimer's disease patients given vitamin E, a study described in the December 2013 issue of the journal Experimental Gerontology uncovered a protective effect for higher levels of the vitamin E subfractions gamma tocopherol, beta tocotrienol and total tocotrienols against the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment.

Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland, the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, and the University of Perugia in Italy evaluated the association between serum tocopherol and tocotrienol levels and cognitive impairment in 140 participants in the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia (CAIDE) study, which examined Finnish men and women at several time points during midlife, and re-examined survivors in 1998 and 2005-2008. The current study compared 64 subjects diagnosed at the second re-examination with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease with 76 cognitively normal participants. Stored serum samples collected in 1998 were analyzed for alpha, beta, gamma and delta tocopherols; alpha, beta, gamma and delta tocotrienols, and total cholesterol (which may influence serum vitamin E levels).

The researchers uncovered a 73% lower risk of cognitive impairment among those whose serum gamma tocopherol to cholesterol ratio was among the middle third of subjects in comparison with those whose ratio was among the lowest third. Higher serum levels of gamma tocopherol, beta tocotrienol and total tocotrienols were each associated with a significantly lower risk of being cognitively impaired.

"Higher levels of gamma tocopherol, beta tocotrienol, and total tocotrienols seemed to protect against cognitive impairment, even after different adjustments for cholesterol," authors Francesca Mangialasche and colleagues write. "Larger studies with assessments of vitamin E forms at several points in time are warranted to clarify the role of the vitamin E family in the onset and progression of age-related cognitive decline and dementia."

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Deficiency = damage

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Vitamin D's benefits to the bone are well known, but what is perhaps more important is its more recently recognized role in the brain. In the December, 2013 issue of the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine researchers at the University of Kentucky report a damaging effect in the brains of rats that consumed vitamin D deficient diets for three to four months.

"Given that vitamin D deficiency is especially widespread among the elderly, we investigated how during aging from middle-age to old-age how low vitamin D affected the oxidative status of the brain," stated lead author Allan Butterfield, who is a professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky and director of the Free Radical Biology in Cancer Core of the Markey Cancer Center. "Adequate vitamin D serum levels are necessary to prevent free radical damage in brain and subsequent deleterious consequences."

Dr Butterfield and his colleagues divided 27 one-year-old rats to receive diets that provided the same amount of calories but contained low, normal or high amounts of vitamin D. After four to five months on the diets, the animals' brains were examined for markers of oxidative and nitrosative stress.

Rats in the low vitamin D group showed increased nitrosative stress, which damages the cells. They also observed changes in the levels of several brain proteins, three of which are involved in glycolysis (the metabolic breakdown of glucose that releases energy). "These results suggest that dietary vitamin D deficiency contributes to significant nitrosative stress in brain and may promote cognitive decline in middle-aged and elderly adults," the authors conclude.

Dr Butterfield suggests that people get their blood tested to determine their vitamin D levels, and that they consume foods that are high in the vitamin and add vitamin D supplements if needed.

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