This Little-known Nutrient May Boost Brain Health
Eating fresh coconut is a lot of work, but well worth the effort. It has a delicate, slightly sweet flavor you just can’t get out of a bag. It’s a terrific seasonal treat.
Coconut is also a rare source of alpha-tocotrienol, a powerful form of vitamin E. And new research suggests this little-understood vitamin may have a strong influence on brain and nerve health.
You probably know there are several forms of vitamin B. The same applies to vitamin E. The most common form is called alpha-tocopherol (alpha-T), and it’s a top antioxidant. If you take a multi-vitamin or vitamin E supplement, it’s probably alpha-T.
But – just as with B vitamins – different forms of vitamin E work differently in your body. And a new study from Ohio State University shows just how important alpha-tocotrienol (alpha-T3) may be.
As you can imagine, blood flow to your brain is critical. If part of your brain doesn’t get enough blood – even for a short time – your brain cells start dying off. And events like this happen to almost 800,000 Americans every year.
One reason your brain cells die during these events is a build-up of toxins.
You see, when everything is running smoothly, your body releases a protein – called MRP1 – that works at cleaning up these toxins. But when blood flow is interrupted, MRP1 can’t do its job, and brain cells begin to die.
That’s where alpha-T comes in.
An Ohio State research team discovered that alpha-T stimulates the genes that control MRP1 production.
Using this information, they gave a group of lab animals alpha-T supplements for 13 weeks. A second group received plain corn oil.
When blood flow was restricted to their brains, the two groups had very different results. The alpha-T group suffered far less damage.1
Another group at Ohio State discovered that an enzyme – cPLA2 – can damage brain cells after interrupted blood flow. In test tube experiments, alpha-T3 blocked the activity of this enzyme. In fact, brain cells exposed to even tiny amounts of alpha-T3 were 4 times more likely to survive.2
In another animal study, canine brains experienced less damage after taking alpha-T3… partly because their blood flow stabilized more quickly.3
In other words, these Ohio State studies show that alpha-T3 may support lower levels of nerve damage three ways. And the researchers found that only very small amounts were needed to provide a benefit.
These results still have to be verified in human studies. But the researchers hope to begin limited trials before too long. Still, with such promising results, adding a little alpha-T3 to your diet couldn’t hurt.
The only problem is that very few foods contain much alpha-T3. Coconut is an excellent source. Rice has a fair amount. And onions also contain a little. But other than a handful of foods, though alpha-T3 is rare in the American diet.
Asian diets, however, are rich in alpha-T3. And it’s not just because they eat more rice than Americans. Coconut and palm oils are two of the best sources of alpha-T3… and they’re used extensively throughout Southeast Asia.
You may have heard warning about these “tropical oils,” because they contain high levels of saturated fats. They do. But they’re actually good for you.
Unlike saturated animal fats, coconut and palm oils contain medium-chain triglycerides (MCT)… and MCTs don’t carry the heart-health risks of other saturated fats. So if you’d like to get more alpha-T3 in your diet, moderate use of these oils should be fine.
Best Life Herbals Wellness Team
Best Life Herbals
1 Park, H.-A., et al, “Natural Vitamin E α-Tocotrienol Protects Against Ischemic Stroke by Induction of Multidrug Resistance-Associated Protein,” StrokeAHA. June 30, 2011; 110.608547. (Published online before print.)
2 Khanna, S., et al, “Nanomolar vitamin E α-tocotrienol inhibits glutamate-induced activation of phospholipase A2 and causes neuroprotection,” Journal of Neurochemistry. March 2010;112(5):1249-1260.
3 Rink, C., et al, “Tocotrienol vitamin E protects against preclinical canine ischemic stroke by inducing arteriogenesis,” Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. June 15, 2011:doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2011.85. (Published online before print.)