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Tocotrienols for brain health

This is written by my colleague at Penang Bureau.

A recent study has found that Vitamin E from palm oil can help protect brain cells, writes Marina Emmanuel.

MALAYSIA’s top spot as the first country to commercialise tocotrienols has been strengthened by the findings of a two-year human clinical study carried out at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), which now lend promise for the preservation of brain health.

Derived from palm oil, this Vitamin E supplement, consumed long-term, has been found to protect brain cells and the nervous system as well as help minimise brain cell injuries, especially during a stroke.

The clinical study was published in the American Heart Association journal, Stroke. It is being touted as the first study to provide solid evidence of tocotrienol’s neuroprotective benefits in humans.

The clinical trial, led by USM Professor Dr Yuen Kah Hay and detailed in Stroke, shows that Vitamin E tocotrienols, derived from palm oil may support white matter health by weakening the progression of white matter lesions (WML) or oxygen-starved brain cells.

About 50 per cent of our brain is made of white matter, which provides connections to various other brain centres and is key to learning and memory.

WMLs are abnormal regions in the brain that can be detected by magnetic resonance imaging. Brain WMLs have been reportedly linked to the development of other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“Injury to white matter has been reported to be the major cause of functional disability in cerebrovascular disease,” said Yuen, adding that previous animal studies have reported that palm oil Vitamin E tocotrienols are capable of preventing damage to white matter during a stroke, and improving blood circulation to the damaged part of the brain after a stroke.

TWO-YEAR STUDY

The trial was a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted by USM which followed two groups of volunteers — one with WMLs and the other with no WMLs — for two years.

One group received 200mg of mixed tocotrienols (Tocovid Suprabio) twice daily for two years, while the others were given a placebo. All volunteers were instructed to maintain their regular diets and physical activity levels.

MRIs were performed at entry into the study (baseline), and then repeated after one year and again after two years.

After two years of supplementation, the mean WML volume of the placebo group increased whereas those who received mixed palm tocotrienols remained unchanged, the study concluded.


“Tocotrienols,” noted Yuen, “have been in the market for a long time and are sold here and in the US and Europe. It is through the efforts of Malaysian companies that the world today knows of the availability of tocotrienols.”

He said that though doctors in Hong Kong have been prescribing tocotrienols to patients, there is still a need to convince local health professionals of its neuroprotective benefits.

“They remain sceptical unless we show them evidence, which is the result of tests on humans. With more studies coming out that tocotrienols are indeed neuro-protective, the effect is likely to be seen in better demand for palm Vitamin E tocotrienols while further improving the image of Malaysian palm oil,” said Yuen.

“As proven by studies carried out abroad, palm oil is healthy and just as good as olive oil, if one looks in terms of their cholesterol profile. What is needed now is to to convince consumers.

“Doctors and pharmacists can do a good job in advising their patients on palm oil since they are looked on as opinion leaders in the health field.”

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