Vitamin E prevents brain damage during stroke
A variety of vitamin E may prevent brain damage caused by stroke and may even be able to prevent strokes from occurring in the first place, two new studies have indicated.
Animal studies by researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have shown that, if the blood vessels surrounding the area of a stroke can be triggered to dilate and redirect blood flow around the damaged area, much of the stroke-induced brain damage can be prevented.
Scans of brains undergoing strokes show one or more clusters of tissue that have gone dark in the vicinity of obstructed blood vessels.
“That part of the brain is not getting blood or oxygen and the cells are dying. There’s not much we can do for a patient at this point and that’s frustrating,” said Wexner researcher Dr. Cameron Rink.
There is currently no known drug that is able to induce redirection of blood flow after a stroke has already occurred. In 25 years of research, 1,000 separate drugs have been tried in the hopes of reducing brain damage following a stroke; all have failed but two: aspirin and the clot-buster tPA, which is only helpful in 4 percent of cases.
Makes blood vessels adapt
That’s why, for the past 12 years, Rink has focused instead on finding ways to prevent stroke. For the past two years, he has used funding from Ohio State’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science and the American Heart Association to study the effect of the nutritional supplement tocotrienol, a vitamin E variant that naturally occurs in palm oil and can also be purchased over-the-counter as a nutritional supplement.
Using a technique called laser capture microdissection, in which microscopic samples are taken from brain tissue and blood vessels, Rink has shown that just 10 weeks of supplementation with tocotrienol stimulates blood vessels to remodel, allowing them to spontaneously expand in response to an increased need for oxygen-rich blood, a process known as arteriogenesis. These physiological changes, Rink believes, would make the brain better able to redirect blood flow away from stroke regions, reducing brain damage.
“We know that people who have good collaterals have better recovery from strokes,” Rink said. “We think that tocotrienol helps improve the function of collaterals, which would offer someone better protection from an initial or secondary stroke.”
Rink has high hopes for tocotrienol, which does not seem to have any side effects or to interfere with the drugs commonly used to treat cardiovascular disease. He believes that, some day, people could take a daily tocotrienol supplement to lower their stroke risk.
He is currently carrying out a study to see if tocotrienol supplementation reduces the risk or damage of second strokes in stroke survivors. He is also analyzing micro-RNA collected from blood vessels involved in strokes, in the hopes of identifying what role gene expression plays in stroke, and whether tocotrienol might influence the way key genes are expressed.
Protects white matter
Another recent study, conducted by researchers from the University of Science in Penang, Malaysia, and published in the journal Stroke, found that people who took a daily tocotrienol supplement for two years showed significantly fewer white matter lesions than those who did not take the supplement.
The brain’s white matter is the region most affected by stroke.
“This new study is very significant,” researcher Kalyana Sundram said. “Many compounds have been shown to display neuroprotective effects in animal models of stroke. But they failed in human clinical trials. This may be because the human brain has so much more white matter (about 50 percent) than rats (about 10 percent), for example.”