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Scientists Now Identify A Previously Unknown Function of Vitamin E

To reduce signs of aging, people massage Vitamin E into the skin and athletes consume it to improve endurance. Now, scientists have the evidence of one of vitamin E’s previously unknown body functions.

This powerful antioxidant vitamin helps repair tears in the plasma membranes that protect cells from outside forces and screen what enters and exits. Georgia Health Sciences University researchers reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Everyday activities such as eating and exercise can tear the plasma membrane and the new research shows that vitamin E is essential to repair it. Without the proper repair of muscle cells, such as when muscles eventually waste away and die in a process similar to what
occurs in muscular dystrophy. Another example is the muscle weakness and common complaint from people with diabetes, the condition is associated with inadequate plasma membrane repair.

Century-old laboratory studies linked vitamin E deficiency to muscle problems but how that occurs remained a mystery until now. A  lack of membrane repair caused muscle wasting and death, which promptedthe researchers to look at vitamin E.

Vitamin E appears to assist repair in several ways. As an antioxidant, it helps eliminate destructive by-products from the body’s use of oxygen that impede repair. Because it’s lipid-soluble, vitamin E can actually insert itself into the membrane to prevent free radicals from attacking. It also can help keep important phospholipids, a major membrane component, compliant so they can better repair after a tear.

As a common example…  Exercise causes the cell powerhouse, the mitochondria, to burn a lot more oxygen than normal. “As an unavoidable consequence you produce reactive oxygen species,” the researchers explained.  The physical force of exercise actually tears the membrane. Vitamin E enables adequate plasma membrane repair despite the oxidant challenge and keeps the situation in balance.

When he mimicked what happens with exercise by using hydrogen peroxide to produce free radicals, he found that tears in skeletal muscle cells would not heal unless pretreated with vitamin E.
The next studies will be aided by two recent National Institutes of  Health grants, will include examining membrane repair in vitamin E-deficient animals.

They also want to examine membrane repair failure in diabetes.  The team showed that cells taken from animal models of types 1 and 2 diabetes have faulty repair mechanisms. They discovered high glucose was a culprit by soaking cells in a high-glucose solution for eight to 12 weeks, during which time they developed a repair defect. It’s also well documented that reactive oxygen species levels are elevated in diabetes.

The Nature Communications paper showed that vitamin E treatment in an animal model of diabetes restored some membrane repair ability.
Also, an analogue of the most biologically active form of vitamin E significantly reversed membrane repair deficits caused by high glucose and increased cell survival after tearing cells in culture.

Story Source: Georgia Health Sciences University.

Journal Reference:
Promotion of plasma membrane repair by vitamin E. Nature Communications, 2011;

Georgia Health Sciences University (2011, December 20). Scientists identify an innate function of vitamin E.

High Blood Levels of Vitamin E Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease,

High levels of several vitamin E components in the blood are associated with a decreased risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in advanced age, suggesting that vitamin E may help prevent cognitive deterioration in elderly people. This is the conclusion reached in a Swedish study published in the July 2010 issue of the “Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease”.

“Vitamin E is a family of eight natural components, but most studies related to Alzheimer’s disease investigate only one of these components, tocopherol,” explained the research team. “We hypothesized that all the vitamin E family members could be important in protecting against Alzheimer’s Disease. If confirmed, this result has implications for both individuals and society, as 70 percent of all dementia cases in the general population occur in people over 75 years of age, and the study suggests a protective effect of vitamin E against Alzheimer’s Disease in individuals aged 80 and over.”

The study was conducted at the Aging Research Center (ARC), Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, in collaboration with the Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics, University of Perugia, Italy. The study included a sample of 232 participants from the Kungsholmen Project, a population-based longitudinal study on aging and dementia in Stockholm (Kungsholmen parish). All participants were aged 80+ years and were dementia-free at the beginning of the study (baseline). After 6-years of follow-up, 57 Alzheimer’s Disease cases were identified.

The blood levels of all eight natural vitamin E components were measured at the beginning of the study. Subjects with higher blood levels (highest tertile) were compared with subjects who had lower blood levels (lowest tertile) to verify whether these two groups developed dementia at different rates. The study found that subjects with higher blood levels of all the vitamin E complex forms had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease, compared to subjects with lower levels. After adjusting for various confounders, the risk was reduced by 45- 54%, depending on the vitamin E component.

The researchers note that the protective effect of vitamin E seems to be related to the combination of the different forms. Another recent study indicated that supplements containing high doses of the E vitamin form �- tocopherol may increase mortality, emphasizing that such dietary supplements, if not used in a balanced way, may be more harmful than previously thought.

“Elderly people as a group are large consumers of vitamin E supplements, which usually contain only �- tocopherol, and this often at high doses,” said the researchers. “Our findings need to be confirmed by other studies, but they open up for the possibility that the balanced presence of different vitamin E forms can have an important neuroprotective effect.”

Story Source: Karolinska Institutet. Journal Reference: High plasma levels of vitamin E forms and reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk in advanced age. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2010;

This article is for informational and educational purposes only; It is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your doctor or healthcare professional.

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