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Vitamin E Protects Brain Function

Recent research on vitamin E, one of the staples of every good nutritional program because of its valuable antioxidant effects in fatty tissues, has shown it to be even more beneficial than had previously been thought. It had long been known that vitamin E provides strong protection against heart disease and stroke by inhibiting the oxidation of lipids?most importantly, LDL-cholesterol, the “bad cholesterol”?in the blood. It also inhibits platelet aggregation, the process by which blood clots form in our arteries and veins, sometimes with fatal results.

Now it appears that vitamin E's antioxidant power also plays a significant role in protecting and preserving brain function in aging people. In fact, research has shown that a high intake of vitamin E from foods or supplements correlates well with reduced cognitive decline. The effect is so strong at the highest levels of intake that they are equivalent to a decrease in chronological age of 8 to 9 years. (For a detailed discussion of all this, see “Vitamin E Keeps Your Brain Razor-Sharp” in Life Enhancement, November 2002).

Furthermore, research has shown that a high intake of vitamin E can significantly delay the onset of functional deterioration in patients with Alzheimer's disease, particularly as reflected in the need for institutionalization.1 Patients taking a daily dose of 2000 IU of vitamin E (in the form of d,l-alpha-tocopherol) for 2 years had an average delay, compared with controls taking placebo, of 230 days before the occurrence of the so-called primary outcome of Alzheimer's disease. This is defined as any of the following four events: loss of ability to perform activities of daily living, onset of clinically severe dementia, institutionalization, and death.

The difference between the vitamin E group and the control group was statistically significant only in regard to the delay in the need for institutionalization. There were measurable benefits in the other three outcomes, but they were not statistically significant. Nonetheless, the results were sufficiently impressive that the American Psychiatric Association now recommends the use of 2000 IU of vitamin E (1000 IU twice daily) for patients with moderate Alzheimer's disease.

Sano M, Ernesto C, Thomas RG, Klauber MR, Schafer K, Grundman M, Woodbury P, Growdon J, Cotman CW, Pfeiffer E, Schneider LS, Thal LJ, for the Members of the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study. A controlled trial of selegiline, alpha-tocopherol, or both as treatment for Alzheimer's disease. N Engl J Med 1997;336:1216-22.

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