Studies Show Vitamin E Has a Role in MS Symptoms and Treatment
Individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) are always on a quest for better ways to manage their symptoms and find a treatment plan that works for them. Several recent studies, including a new one published in Neuroscience, suggest vitamin E may help fulfill that search.
Since MS is an autoimmune disease characterized by neurodegeneration (damage to and death of nerve cells) and vitamin E has been shown to have neuroprotective abilities, it seems logical to suggest that this nutrient could be instrumental in managing the disease. Fortunately, a number of researchers have been wondering the very same thing.
First, what is vitamin E?
Vitamin E is actually an eight-faceted nutrient consisting of four tocopherols (alpha, beta, delta, and gamma) and four tocotrienols. This complex vitamin is fat soluble, which means it dissolves in fat and is found mainly in adipose (fat) tissue and muscle.
Vitamin E’s claim to fame is its antioxidant powers because it is effective at fighting disease-causing and age-promoting free radicals. It also is a champion of the immune system and the nervous system because it facilitates communication between neurons, a critical factor when considering MS.
Although vitamin 8 has eight facets, the ones that have received the most attention are alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol. Both can be found in food, while alpha-tocopherol is the most common form present in supplements. When you see the government’s Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin E, it is based on alpha-tocopherol, and that amount is 15 mg or 22.4 International Units for males and females age 14 years and older.
Vitamin E and MS
In the quest for effective ways to prevent and treat MS, scientists have explored the impact of certain drugs and natural substances on the neurons. Among the nerve cells in question are Purkinje cells.
Purkinje cells are neurons that are located in the cerebellum. These cells have long tentacles called dendrites that are responsible for most of the electrical signaling in the cerebellum, which is a key area for motor functioning. Therefore if the Purkinje cells are damaged, a person’s mobility is negatively affected.
That brings us to the new research appearing in Neuroscience. In that study, researchers used mouse models and noted the following:
- Alpha-tocopherol supplements given to mice that were vitamin E deficient and that also lacked the tocopherol transfer protein (TTP) increased the level of the vitamin in the cerebellum modestly. This finding indicated that TTP is critical for raising levels of vitamin E in the brain.
- Vitamin E deficiency was characterized by reduced dendritics of the Purkinje neurons, which in turn resulted in problems with motor coordination and brain functioning
- When vitamin E supplements were given to the mice, their motor and brain functions returned to normal.
The authors concluded that supplements of alpha-tocopherol “may comprise an effective intervention in oxidative stress-related neurological disorders,” such as MS.
What impact does vitamin E have on people with MS? That question was addressed in a study of 88 individuals with relapsing-remitting MS. All the participants had originally been part of a placebo-controlled trial of omega-3 fatty acids and interferon beta (IFNB).
In this new study, the patients were followed for two years and underwent 12 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and nine measurements of alpha-tocopherol. Here’s what the authors found:
- While the patients received interferon beta treatment, each increase in alpha-tocopherol of 10 umol/L reduced the chances for simultaneous new T2 lesions by nearly 37 percent and total new disease activity by 35.4 percent
- These benefits were not seen before treatment with IFNB
Therefore the authors concluded that while patients were taking IFNB, increasing concentrations of vitamin E “were associated with reduced odds for simultaneous and subsequent MRI disease activity” in patients with relapsing-remitting MS.
Here’s one more study that casts a favorable light on vitamin E for MS. This was a review of the literature on fat-soluble vitamins and their potential positive effects on disease activity.
The reviewers concluded that vitamin E has “biological properties that could be relevant for MS pathogenesis [mechanisms that cause a disease].” They also named the vitamin as being a “promising” candidate for future studies.
Are you getting enough vitamin E?
I have already noted the RDA for vitamin E, so how well do you meet or exceed this requirement? When looking for foods rich in vitamin E, think green, nuts, and seeds: spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, almonds, and sunflower seeds are good sources of this antioxidant.
In fact, if you steam 1 cup of some greens and sprinkle ¼ cup of sunflower seeds or almonds on top, you could nearly meet your daily needs in one meal. Supplemental vitamin E also is recommended.
There are a variety of natural ways to help manage MS with diet and supplements. Based on the findings of recent studies, it appears vitamin E may be beneficial in the treatment of MS symptoms so be sure to include foods rich in this nutrient every day.
Loken-Amsrud KI et al. Alpha-tocopherol and MRI outcomes in multiple sclerosis—association and prediction. PLoS One 2013; 8(1): e54417
Torkildsen O et al. Fat-soluble vitamins as disease modulators in multiple sclerosis. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica Supplementum 2013; (195): 1-3
Ulatowski L et al. Vitamin E is essential for Purkinje neuron integrity. Neuroscience 2013 Dec 13. Epub ahead of print