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Scientists discover mechanism how vitamin E deficiency can cause brain damage

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Posted April 15, 2015

Vitamin E, found in variety of foods from spinach to nuts, is vital for our bodies. In fact, now researchers at Oregon State University have outlined a mechanism by which inadequate vitamin E can cause brain damage. It was discovered that vitamin E deficiency may cause neurological damage by interrupting a supply line of specific nutrients. It also robs brain of the “building blocks” it needs to maintain neuronal health.

Sunflower seeds and oil are a particularly good dietary source of vitamin E, which is vital for maintaining healthy brain. (Photo by Bruce Fritz, courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Sunflower seeds and oil are a particularly good dietary source of vitamin E, which is vital for maintaining healthy brain. (Photo by Bruce Fritz, courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture)

These discoveries were made by experiments with zebrafish.  They were fed a diet with low amount of vitamin E throughout their life. Study showed that they had about 30 % lower levels of polyunsaturated fatty acid (DHA-PC), which is a part of the cellular membrane in every brain cell or neuron. Other studies have showed that low level of DHA-PC in human blood plasma can indicate a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, study showed that level of lysophospholipids (lyso-PLs) is lower by 60 % in fishes with vitamin E deficiency. Lyso-PLs are nutrients needed to get DHA into the brain. They also serve as building blocks that aid in membrane repair.

Why this research is so important? Zebrafish used in this study were one year old. During this time they lived on low vitamin E diet. According to scientists this is equivalent to humans eating a low vitamin E diet for a lifetime. They also say that this is a serious problem in USA as 96 % of adult woman and 90 % of men do not get adequate dose of vitamin E in their diet. This, on longer term, can lead to brain damage, as this new study finds.

Human brain is much enriched with DHA, but it does not produce it by itself – it gets it from liver. Lyso-PLs help carry DHA to the brain when vitamin E intake is insufficient the amount of those compounds is being greatly reduced. When vitamin E is inadequate, building blocks, needed to maintain the brain are cut by more than a half. This, in turn, can lead to neurological damage and, possible, even Alzheimer’s disease

Other research showed that increased intake of vitamin E can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is likely that this disease is caused by a variety of factors and is a reflection of years of neurological damage that has already been done. It cannot be explained only by vitamin E deficiency or treated by increased intake of this vitamin.

Vitamin E to humans is provided by dietary oils, such as olive oil as well as almonds, sunflower seeds and avocados. Scientists say that people should pay more attention to their daily vitamin intake as it creates all kind of health benefits and helps to avoid variety of diseases. This new study together with other researches provides increasingly clear evidence that vitamin E is associated with brain protection and further studies will help to better understanding of some of the underlying mechanisms on maintaining healthy brain.

Source: Oregon State University

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