Dramatic brain images of vitamin E protection
What if you could get a secret look at your own brain tissue to see how it is holding up under everyday damage from years of free-radical attacks and other biological assaults? What if you had compelling visual evidence suggesting that vitamin E could help protect your brain from subtle cumulative damage? Austrian researchers Reinhold Schmidt, M.D., and colleagues at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz, have produced such remarkable new brain scan images, showing that subtle brain damage is directly tied to low amounts of vitamin E in the blood. The investigators used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to spot signs of subtle brain damage in 355 normal volunteers ages forty-five to seventy-five. In a word, they took dramatic pictures of brains on their way to ruin.
The type of brain pathology the researchers focused on is known as “white matter hyperintensities”—tiny abnormalities or injuries in brain tissue, suggesting small vessel disease in cerebral white matter. It’s common in the elderly, evident in 40 to 50 percent of elderly brains. Although it is “benign” in that it produces no noticeable symptoms in normal older people, it nevertheless is a sign of blood vessel damage and cognitive impairment and a predictor of worse things to come. One possible cause: vascular disease, including high blood pressure. Another logical cause: perpetual brain cell battering and oxidation by free-radical chemicals over many years.
If hordes of free radicals are a cause, one would expect that the more extensive the white matter injuries, the weaker the body’s antioxidant forces at combating the free radicals. To test that theory, the Austrian researchers measured ten naturally occurring antioxidants in the subjects’ bloodstreams. The results were stunning.
Low levels of blood lycopene (from tomatoes) were indicative of increased brain damage. But most striking was a link with vitamin E. Those with the least blood vitamin E had seven times or 700 percent more early brain matter damage than those with the highest blood levels of vitamin E. Although the exact mechanisms of the damage are uncertain, vitamin E appears to keep it in check, protecting the aging brain. When a stark visual picture shows that your brain looks less bruised and beaten up just because you have more vitamin E in your veins, it’s enough to make anybody reach for the vitamin E.
In another study of 1769 healthy subjects ages fifty to seventy-five years, Dr. Schmidt’s group found that those with the lowest vitamin E blood levels scored worst on a rating scale that measures dementia, another word for failure of intellectual functions. Yet, they did not exhibit overt symptoms of mental decline. The connection held true regardless of sex, education, smoking, or blood cholesterol levels.