Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered how vitamin E deficiency may cause neurological damage by interrupting a supply line of specific nutrients and robbing the brain of the building blocks it needs to maintain neuronal health. The opensource findings, based on work done with zebrafish, are published in the Journal of Lipid Research.
The research showed that zebrafish fed a diet deficient in vitamin E throughout their life had about 30 percent lower levels of DHA-PC, which is a part of the cellular membrane in every brain cell, or neuron. Previous studies have also concluded that low levels of DHA-PC in the blood plasma of humans is a biomarker than can predict a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The current study also observed the level of compounds called lyso PLs, which are nutrients needed for transporting DHA into the brain, and serve as building blocks that aid in membrane repair. The data findings showed that the lyso PLs are an average of 60 percent lower in fish with a vitamin E deficient diet.
The year-old zebrafish used in the current study, and the deficient levels of vitamin E they were given, are equivalent to humans eating a low vitamin E diet for a lifetime. In the United States, 96 percent of adult women and 90 percent of men do not receive adequate levels of vitamin E in their diet. DHA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, or PUFA, increasingly recognized as one of the most important nutrients found in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those provided by fish oils and some other foods. The results 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.
The team explain that human brains are very enriched in DHA but do not produce it, with the brain obtaining DHA from the liver. The particular molecules that help carry it there are lyso PLs, and the amount of those compounds is being greatly reduced when vitamin E intake is insufficient. This sets the stage for cellular membrane damage and neuronal death. DHA is the crucial nutrient, state the team, but it’s lyso PLs which is key for transporting DHA into the brain.
In a sense, the team state, if the amount of vitamin E is inadequate more than half the amount of materials are being cut which are needed to build and maintain the brain.
Previous studies have shown that the progression of Alzheimer’s disease can be slowed by increased intake of vitamin E, including one study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, the researchers theorise that the disease is probably a reflection of years of neurological damage that has already been done. The zebrafish diet used in the current study was deficient in vitamin E for the whole life of the fish, as is vitamin E deficiency in some humans.
Vitamin E in human diets is most often provided by dietary oils, such as olive oil. But many of the highest levels of vitamin E are found in foods not considered dietary staples such as almonds, sunflower seeds or avocados. The team surmise that there’s increasingly clear evidence that vitamin E is associated with brain protection, and now the medical community are starting to better understand some of the underlying mechanisms.
Source: Oregon State University