If you want to maximize your thinking power and clear up a foggy memory, then you need to know about a vitamin that allows the neurons in your brain to link up effectively and communicate with each other efficiently.
Unfortunately, most of us are not getting enough of this nutrient and the lack of it could be slowing down messaging in our brains as well as endangering recall and the ability to learn new information. Here’s what you need to know.
This often overlooked nutrient is vitamin E.
In a review of vitamin E and dementia in the journal Antioxidants, researchers wrote, “A large proportion of individuals may have a sub-clinical deficiency of vitamin E that over time contributes to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”1
The research suggests that vitamin E is critical to the health of brain cells.
Rescuing Neuronal Membranes
Without enough vitamin E, researchers say, your brain is in danger of neurological damage when neurons’ membranes don’t form correctly. And those membranes are the gateways that allow signals in the brain to be conveyed among its neural networks and be properly interpreted.
In constructing those membranes, the brain needs adequate amounts of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), one of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. Those are delivered to brain tissue by the liver through the bloodstream.
But when your vitamin E level drops, the liver has a tougher time sending vitamin E to the brain, where it is used to make the compound called DHA-PC – the form that goes into membrane construction.
In lab tests performed at Oregon State University, researchers showed that a lack of vitamin E can lead to about a 60 percent drop in LysoPL, the compound that transports DHA from the liver to the brain. As a result, the tests show, a deprived brain can experience a 30 percent reduction in DHA-PC.
“This research showed that vitamin E is needed to prevent a dramatic loss of a critically important molecule in the brain, and helps explain why vitamin E is needed for brain health,” says one of the world’s leading experts on vitamin E, Maret Traber, Ph.D. “Human brains are very enriched in DHA but they can’t make it, they get it from the liver.”
Dr. Traber goes on to explain that “when vitamin E intake is insufficient, this sets the stage for cellular membrane damage and neuronal death.”
Chances Are, You Don’t Get Enough Vitamin E
According to Dr. Traber, 90 percent of Americans don’t get enough vitamin E.2 Vitamin E supplements can help offset this lack, as can eating foods relatively rich in vitamin E, like sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, avocado and red pepper.
If you take supplements, many experts say you should make sure they include all the basic, natural forms of vitamin E, including both the tocopherols and the tocotrienols.3
But as Dr. Traber reports, while all forms of vitamin E act as antioxidants, clinical studies point to alpha tocopherol as the most important form for keeping the brain healthier. It may even help those who are already suffering from dementia.
Alpha Tocopherol in the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease
In one study published in the journal Alzheimer’s Dementia, researchers looked at 613 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They found that 2000 IU of alpha tocopherol daily did a better job at slowing cognitive decline than did the Alzheimer’s drug memantine.4
Similar results were found in a study of 341 patients where alpha tocopherol was more effective at slowing cognitive decline than the drug selegiline, usually prescribed to Parkinson’s patients.5 But the research on alpha-tocopherol is far from conclusive…
In a third study in 57 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found 800 IU of alpha tocopherol taken daily slowed cognitive decline only in patients who were “vitamin E responders.” For those who were non-responders, alpha tocopherol did not help their memories and actually appeared to harm their cognition.6
My advice, stick to getting your vitamin E from food or from supplements containing all natural forms of vitamin E, including both the tocopherols and the tocotrienols.
Vitamin E supplementation is a contentious subject. There are four tocopherols and four tocotrienols and the ideal is to get a little of each. You will not find a good selection of E supplements in most stores, so you’ll probably need to order online.
I take Carlson Gamma E-Gems (for the tocopherols) and Life Extension’s Super Absorbable Tocotrienols. Both are highly reputable brands. A nutritionist advised me to take the tocopherols and tocotrienols on alternate days because they compete for the same receptors on cells.
You also want to make sure you’re getting omega-3 fatty acids (specifically the DHA that I told you about earlier) as well as B vitamins. New research shows the three nutrients work together to keep your brain young and robust.
Avoiding Brain Shrinkage
Tests performed by researchers at the University of Oxford show that B vitamin supplements may slow down your cognitive decline and prevent brain atrophy, but only if your DHA levels are relatively high.7
The research was performed on 250 people with MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment), a condition that causes brain function to slip but isn’t serious enough to be characterized as dementia. Although frequently MCI deteriorates into Alzheimer’s disease or another form of memory-destroying dementia.
According to researcher AbderrahimOulhaj, “We found that for people with low levels of omega-3, the B vitamin supplements had little to no effect. But for those with high baseline omega-3 levels, the vitamins were very effective in preventing cognitive decline compared to the placebo.”
And how can you keep up those “baseline” omega-3 levels? Eat fish like salmon and sardines which are rich in omega-3s,or take take a fish oil supplement.
- Dysken M.W., Guarino P.D., Vertrees J.E., Asthana S., Sano M., Llorente M., Pallaki M., Love S., Schellenberg G.D., McCarten J.R., et al. Vitamin E and memantine in Alzheimer’s disease: Clinical trial methods and baseline data. Alzheimers Dement. 2014;10:36–44. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2013.01.014.
- A controlled trial of selegiline, alpha-tocopherol, or both as treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study. Sano M, Ernesto C, Thomas RG, Klauber MR, Schafer K, Grundman M, Woodbury P, Growdon J, Cotman CW, Pfeiffer E, Schneider LS, Thal LJ N Engl J Med. 1997 Apr 24; 336(17):1216-22.
- Vitamin E paradox in Alzheimer’s disease: it does not prevent loss of cognition and may even be detrimental. Lloret A, Badía MC, Mora NJ, Pallardó FV, Alonso MD, Viña J JAlzheimers Dis. 2009; 17(1):143-9.