The Links Between Free Radicals, Neurodegenerative Diseases and Vitamin E

Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are chronic, progressive and debilitating. Unfortunately, they’re relatively common and primarily occur in elderly people. And while we have tests for determining who’s more at risk for them, there are still no ways to prevent them. Yet.

Treating and, ideally, curing neurodegenerative diseases is a goal for researchers and doctors around the world. As research continues, some studies have shown a link between free radicals, oxidative stress and Vitamin E levels.

Read on to discover how Vitamin E may promote a healthy brain by combatting neurodegenerative diseases.

Free radicals, oxidative stress and the brain

Your body is exposed to free radicals on a daily basis due to environmental conditions, diet, exercise and other factors. As they work their way through the body, free radicals seek stable molecules to bond to, causing cellular damage in the process. This damage is called oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress doesn’t always harm the body. For example, oxidative stress caused by exercise provides beneficial regulatory effects for the body’s systems. Oxidative stress due to an abundance of free radicals, on the other hand, can be harmful in a number of ways. It can harm the body’s immune system and affect your vision, cardiovascular health and even your skin.

Oxidative stress can particularly harm the body’s brain function. It’s believed to contribute to the development of neurodegenerative conditions including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s especially damaging for the brain because brain cells need a large amount of oxygen. In fact, the brain consumes about 20% of the total amount of oxygen your entire body requires.

Neurodegenerative conditions linked to oxidative stress

There are two common neurodegenerative conditions associated with oxidative stress—Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. As oxidative stress takes hold in the brain, excess free radicals can alter and damage individual brain cells and can even cause cell death, potentially contributing to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Oxidative stress also takes a toll on essential proteins in the brain, particularly amyloid-beta peptides. As free radical damages these peptides, it can lead to the accumulation of amyloid plaque in the brain—a key marker for Alzheimer’s disease.

Research has shown that oxidation is the most consistent risk factor for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This is particularly troublesome for elderly people, since there’s a natural increase in oxidation due to the aging process. Many scientists believe that the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s can be linked to the gradual, consistent accumulation of oxidative stress from aging

Vitamin E’s role as an antioxidant

Antioxidants play a crucial part in preventing free radicals from multiplying and causing oxidative stress. When they detect the presence of free radicals in the body, antioxidants seek them out, neutralizing them before they can do damage to healthy cells.

Vitamin E is an especially powerful antioxidant. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin that’s stored in the body to defend against free radicals. The Vitamin E you take in from food and supplements can potentially protect many systems throughout the body, safeguarding cells from free radical damage and preventing oxidative stress from taking hold.

Is there a link between Vitamin E and brain health?

There is growing support for the belief that Vitamin E is an essential nutrient for a healthy brain. Recent research shows that diets poor in Vitamin E cause damage to the brain, potentially leading to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies have focused on the role of DHA in the brain. This polyunsaturated fatty acid is commonly found in Vitamin E-rich whole foods, including leafy green vegetables, pressed oils, walnuts and eggs. Vitamin E plays a part in carrying DHA to the brain, where it can then fight off cellular membrane damage and complete neuronal death. Scientists found that inadequate Vitamin E intake inhibits the movement of DHA which, in turn, reduces the material necessary to build and maintain the brain.

Research also shows a positive correlation between adequate Vitamin E intake and healthy brain function in the elderly. In studies, participants with high plasma Vitamin E levels consistently had better cognitive performance. It doesn’t hurt for elderly people to follow a Vitamin E-rich diet of whole foods including nuts, vegetables, fruits and fish. In some cases, supplementing may be recommended to augment Vitamin E dietary sources.

If you’re concerned about your Vitamin E intake in terms of your cognitive health, reach out to your doctor. Supplementation may be an option for you, but a doctor’s approval is necessary before beginning any treatment regimen.


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