This year, 700,000 Americans will have a stroke; more than 137,000 of them will die. About 40 percent of those who survive will be left with moderate to severe impairments that require special care. Researchers are uncovering exciting evidence that supplementing your diet with a natural form of vitamin E called alpha tocotrienol, found in a healthy cooking oil, may help protect your brain’s sensitive nerve cells, possibly limiting the damage caused by a stroke and helping to accelerate recovery of functional loss.
This research is so important – and so promising – that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has renewed funding of the project for a second four-year term. In tocotrienol research one of the few areas of study funded by the NIH that focuses on helping to protect our bodies from stroke damage. Most people don’t currently get enough tocotrienols in their diets to get this benefit. Results from this research may ultimately lead to the development of foods fortified with tocotrienols, which would be an inexpensive and easy way to help us protect ourselves from neurological damage.
The misleading “blind spot” in Vitamin E research
Clinical trials in the news often have a blind spot. Researchers study the more common alphatocopherol form of Vitamin E then incorrectly generalize their results to all forms of Vitamin E. The tocopherol and tocotrienol forms of Vitamin E have contrasting properties in various contexts. If you study any particular type of natural Vitamin E, it is important to draw conclusions limited to the particular form of Vitamin E studied.
As an example, a recent British Medical Journal article has been interpreted by some as a warning that all forms of Vitamin E might have a negative impact on stroke patients. Adverse effects noted using tocopherols may or may not apply to tocotrienols until it is categorically tested for tocotrienols. The tocotrienol form of natural Vitamin E shows very promising results in experimental settings. Details on my research, as well as other tocotrienol research such as Dr. M. Malafa’s research on its benefits on pancreatic cancer can be found at http://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm.
This is an exciting time in tocotrienol research, when it is getting clearer that all natural forms of Vitamin E do not possess the same biological function in the context of human health and disease. Alpha tocotrienol is markedly more potent than the more commonly available forms of vitamin E in its ability to help protect neurons in the brain from damage or death. We need to test alpha-tocotrienol against stroke in clinical trials.
Dr. Sen is a Tenured Professor and Associate Dean for Research at The Ohio State University Medical Center. He also serves as Vice Chairman of Research of the Department of Surgery. DR. Sen is the Editor-in-Chief of the #1 journal in the field, Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. Dr. Sen’s vitamin E research is supported by NINDS of NIH.