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.
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.