I’ve mentioned to you a few times how your heart and brain health are connected and that what’s good health practices for one benefits the other. That’s why, as a cardiologist, I also look for new research that benefits the brain as well as the heart. Recently, I came across some new research about Vitamin E that I’d like to pass on to you as it is especially helpful in protecting your memory. And the positive side effect is that it also benefits your heart!
Is Your Memory Getting The Full Benefit of Vitamin E?
You may not know this, but Vitamin E is often prescribed (along with other prescription drugs) in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Why? Well, because a 1997 study showed that patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease who were given alpha-tocopherol type Vitamin E showed 19% slower functional decline in the progression of their condition. The Vitamin E treated patients also had decreased caregiver burden as patients were more functional on their own.
New studies out of the University of Finland also revealed that healthy elderly people (not with Alzheimer’s disease) who had high blood levels of Vitamin E were less likely to suffer from memory problems, than those who had lower levels. Why is Vitamin E so good for your brain and memory?
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects brain cells (as well as your cardiovascular system and the rest of you) from free radical damage. Oxidative damage on your brain is like having rust spots form. We all know what rust does; it eventually disintegrates the material it forms on. Vitamin E has the ability to prevent reactive oxygen species (ROS) when fat oxidizes. Since your brain is about 60% fat, it’s a good idea to fight fat oxidation as much as possible to preserve brain tissue health. Vitamin E has been shown to prevent LDL “bad” cholesterol (blood fats) from oxidizing and turning into dangerous plaques in your brain as well as your cardiovascular system.
People with cardiovascular disease also have a higher proportion of cognitive disorders as well. Plaque buildups in heart vessels can cause decrease of blood getting to the brain. With decreased blood flow, there’s also decreased oxygen and more chance of deterioration of brain cells. So, getting enough Vitamin E will help protect both your heart and your brain.
You may not know this, but Vitamin E comes in 8 different forms. Most research studies involving the benefits of Vitamin E on memory have centered on using alpha tocopherol form. This may be because it has widely been recognized to meet human requirements and stays in the liver longer. The other forms get excreted faster resulting in lower blood levels. As a result, they haven’t been studied as much as the alpha form. Current RDA listings for Vitamin E are for the alpha tocopherol form.
Yet, the University of Finland researchers recommend getting a good mix of all 8 forms of Vitamin E to optimize your brain-health benefits. These are both tocopherols and tocotrienol types of Vitamin E. So how do you get all the benefits of the combined forms of Vitamin E? The most assured way is through supplements – 200 mg alpha tocopherol (d-alpha, the natural form) and a 125 mg tocotrienol supplement (mixed tocotrienols). But they’re also present in the following foods (and their oils) including:
1. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta tocopherols: Wheat germ and oats (high amounts of all 4), palm oil, safflower, peanut oil (good amounts of alpha, beta and gamma). 1-2 tablespoons a day
2. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta tocotrienols. Palm oil (good amounts of all 4), barley, rice bran, coconut (good amounts of alpha, beta, gamma). 1-2 tablespoons a day
Now that you know the benefit that all the forms of Vitamin E can do in helping preserve your memory, you’ll want to be sure you’re getting enough regularly. In addition, taking a good essential fatty acids supplement, or eating enough Omega-3 rich foods like salmon, tuna, etc, will also help preserve your brain health.
One word of caution with Vitamin E supplements, however, like medications, they work best in measured doses. Vitamin E is also a good blood thinner and too much can cause you to bleed more if you cut yourself, or need surgery, or even some types of dental work. Be sure to tell your doctor, or dentist, that you’ve been taking Vitamin E if you need any type of procedures that involve surgery to prevent blood clotting problems.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
Effect of Vitamin E and Memantine on Functional Decline, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1810379
Medications for Memory Loss, http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_standard_prescriptions.asp
Several Forms of Vitamin E Protect Against Memory Disorders, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140107102640.htm
Forms of Vitamin E http://www.tocotrienol.org/usage.html
Essential Fatty Acids and the Human Brain, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20329590