Vitamin E as stroke antidote

STOP THE SURGERY, GIVE ME VITAMIN E

One of the biggest causes of stroke is a blockage in the carotid artery of the neck leading to the brain. Plaque builds up, the artery narrows, and the supply of blood and oxy­gen to brain cells is cut off. Often doctors can spot the impending carotid disaster through ultrasound pictures of the neck. The challenge then: how to remove the gunk, opening the artery. One way is by surgery, a procedure called carotid endarterectomy, which carries some risk to the patient.

But surprising new research has recently discovered another utterly safe method: A specific form of vitamin E can help clean out blocked carotid arteries! It seems incred­ible, but it has been documented in a remarkable ongoing five-year double-blind study by cardiologist Marvin Bieren­baum and colleagues of the Kenneth L. Jordan Heart Research Foundation in Montclair, New Jersey. For four years, researchers gave fifty patients, ages forty-nine to eighty-three, with severe carotid narrowing (stenosis) either a vitamin E combination of about 100 milligrams of alpha tocopherol plus 240 milligrams of tocotrienols (another form of vitamin E), or a placebo. The degree of narrowing of the carotid arteries ranged from 15 to 79 per­cent. Many had already had a nondisabling stroke or a tran­sient ischemic attack (TIA), a warning sign of stroke. Most continued their regular medications, including aspirin.

Ultrasound scans recorded the state of the carotid arter­ies at six months, twelve months, and then annually. Within six months, the benefits of vitamin E were evident. After four years, the consequences of not taking vitamin E were frightening. The amazing results: Carotid artery clogging regressed, or diminished in 40 percent of those on the vit­amin E mixture. Blood flow through the carotid arteries also improved.

Only 12 percent got worse; the others had no change. In contrast, fully 60 percent on the placebo (five times as many as on the vitamin E) suffered progressive narrowing and clogging of the carotid arteries; in some it was quite marked. Interestingly, in the first part of the study, vitamin E derived from palm oil opened up carotid arteries without lowering cholesterol. It apparently worked its miracle of sweeping away plaque primarily by boosting antioxidant activity and modifying blood coagulation fac­tors, say researchers. A later phase of the study did find that tocotrienol-rich bran oil lowered bad LDL cholesterol by 21 percent.

In any event, the study clearly demonstrates that vita­min E, mostly as tocotrienols, somehow scrubbed down the artery walls, washing away plaque, claims Dr. Bieren­baum. He calls it “a breakthrough study,” proving there is an “alternative to surgery.” He also notes that taking vita­min E could prevent your carotid arteries from becoming blocked in the first place.

It’s important to note that Dr. Bierenbaum uses some ordinary vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), but primarily other types of vitamin E called tocotrienols, extracted from palm oil or rice bran oil. He credits the tocotrienols for most of the regression in the carotid arteries.

VITAMIN E AS STROKE ANTIDOTE

Considering vitamin E’s ability to partly restore carotid arteries to health, perhaps it’s not surprising to find evi­dence that the vitamin deters strokes. A new study showed that a large group of older people (average age sixty-nine) who took in the most vitamin E, primarily from supple­ments, slashed their risk of having an ischemic (blood-clot) stroke, the most common type, by an astonishing 53 per­cent. Surprisingly, the protective dose of vitamin E was very small—from 42 to 72 international units (IU) a day. That compared with stroke victims who averaged only 27 units of E daily.

Most multivitamins contain around 30 units of E, although most experts recommend taking 400 IUs a day. The tiny amount of vitamin E in food was not enough to ward off strokes, researchers concluded. The study, part of the Northern Manhattan Stroke Study, was headed by Dr. Ralph L. Sacco at Columbia University.

Jean-Paul Marat

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