While you may know about your brain’s gray matter, did you also know that about 50 percent of your brain is made of white matter? The health of your brain’s white matter affects how well it learns and functions. This is also the area of the brain most often affected by stroke. Now results of a two-year human clinical study published in the American Heart Association journal, Stroke, show that vitamin E tocotrienols derived from Malaysian palm oil may support white matter health by weakening the progression of white matter lesions. This is the first study that provides solid evidence of tocotrienols’ neuroprotective benefits in humans.
Why health professionals are concerned about white matter lesions
White matter lesions (WMLs) are abnormal regions in the brain that can be detected by MRIs. They are often found in elderly people, and are associated with atherosclerosis in the small blood vessels of the brain, hypertension and diabetes mellitus. If the condition worsens, WMLs may result in cognitive impairment and dementia. “Injury to the brain’s white matter has been reported to be the major cause of functional disability in cerebrovascular disease,” confirmed researcher Prof. Yuen Kah Hay, PhD.
Previous animal studies have reported that vitamin E tocotrienols derived from pal
m oil are capable of preventing damage to white matter during a stroke, and improved circulation to the damaged part of the brain after a stroke.
“This new study is a very significant,” commented Kalyana Sundram, PhD, a member of the research team. “Many compounds have been shown to display neuroprotective effects in animal models of stroke. But they failed in human clinical trials. This may be because the human brain has so much more white matter (about 50 percent) than rats (about 10 percent), for example.”
Human clinical study shows promise for preserving brain health
In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, leading tocotrienol researchers at the University Science Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia, followed 121 volunteers for two years. Each volunteer underwent MRIs to confirm the presence of WMLs. One group received 200 mg. of mixed tocotrienols (available in the U.S. as Tocovid Suprabio) twice daily for two years, while the others received a placebo. All volunteers were instructed to maintain their regular diets and physical activity levels. MRIs were performed at entry into the study (baseline), and then repeated after one year and again after two years.
There was no statistical difference after the first year; however, results after year two were exciting. At two years of supplementation, the mean WML volume of the placebo group increased whereas those who received palm tocotrienols remained unchanged. The principal researcher, Prof. concluded that supplementation with palm tocotrienols (Tocomin SupraBio) attenuates the progression of white matter lesions.
Brain white matter lesions are not only linked to increased stroke risk, but they are also known to be linked to development of other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. “Regular supplementation with palm tocotrienols could prove beneficial in the overall maintenance of good health,” said Dr. Sundram.
This study shows that taking palm-derived tocotrienols daily may be an easy way to be proactive about your brain health, especially if you are at high risk for stroke.
Robin Miller is a health and nutrition editor with more than 30 years of industry experience. She researches and writes about the nutritional benefits of palm fruit oil, with the goal of giving readers factual, science-based information that will be useful in their daily lives.