Vitamin E and the Alzheimer’s Connection

August 26, 2013

Vitamin E and the Alzheimer’s Connection 

 Reference:  Mangialasche Neurobiol Aging 

 Vitamin E, in its alpha-tocopherol form has been a bit of a bust as a supplement to prevent aging-related cognitive decline.  That has been a big disappointment too.  It didn’t work with heart disease (least week) and it made prostate cancer worse, (two weeks ago).  But we keep trying because Vitamin E from food sources has been shown to slow down mild cognitive decline and has been inversely associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  

What gives? It’s the same old story you have heard for the last two weeks so the pattern should feel familiar.  When you look at all the Vitamin Es, you find that there are 8 of them, four in the tocopherol family and four in the trienol family.  Dr. Mangialasche reviewed a Swedish and a Finnish population against all the Vitamin Es, including the tocotrienols.  In his study, he found that gamma-tocopherols were the most protective in the Finnish patients, while the Swedish study showed that total toco and trienols reduced Alzheimer’s risk by as much as 50%.  He calls for more research to tease out the protective effect that we find from the whole family of E’s compared to simply alpha-tocopherol.  

But it is clear that a single one won’t do the work.  You need the whole mix of the rich family, and that’s what you get from whole foods. Another way to do aging research is to examine what different chemicals do to nematode worms that are very simple creatures.  Whether this research extends to humans is another question, but it is interesting for basic science questions.  Nematode worms only live 3 weeks so you can get a pretty rapid turnaround in research questions.  Their immune defense degrades rapidly and they get invaded by opportunistic bacteria.  All in 3 weeks.  

Gamma tocotrienols extends their life span by markedly increasing their defense to infection.  Alpha tocopherol, classical Vitamin E, blocks any improvement.  Again, another example of the classical simply Vitamin E causing a problem by blocking the other family members. In nature, there is likely going to be some utility to the blocking effect of Alpha tocopherol.   But right now, it’s the major Vitamin E that’s being studied.  We see a positive effect of Vitamin E when we have the whole family, all 8 of them, combined. We see a net negative affect when we give a supplementary unbalanced amount of just the single alpha-tocopherol.  What’s a person to do? 

 WWW.What Will Work for Me?  I’m seriously thinking about starting to take Vitamin E again, but just as the toco-trienol form.  That is the form that we seem to see the most protective effect on heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s when you put the sum of them all together.  And that’s likely the form we have lost the most from our diets when we stop eating whole foods in balance, that are freshly prepared and eaten from local sources.  The story is still to play out and I look forward to seeing more meaningful research.  But I’m not throwing out the idea that the Vitamin E’s are possibly valuable.  My old bottle of alpha-tocopherol – that I threw out.  You should too. 

 Pop Quiz 

 1.  In a Swedish study, the use of the combined Alzheimer's was associated with as much as a 50% reduction in Alzheimer's risk.  T or F                           Answer:  True.  Interesting!  Not proof but intriguing. 

 2.  Nematode worms have a protective effect from infections with Vitamin Es.   T or F            Answer:   True 

 3.   Research on nematodes translate strongly to humans? T or F                     Answer:  False.  They are handy because they live a very short time and help us sort our some basic physiology, but can hardly be taken as proof.  Very interesting place to start, but lots more real work needs to be done. 

 4.  You are likely better off getting your Vitamin Es from whole foods such as nuts and whole grains rather than an alpha-tocopherol supplement.                         Answer:  Bingo. 

 5.  If you take any supplement of Vitamin E, make it the gamma - delta toco-trienol.                  Answer:   Double Bingo.

The column was written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI