Category Archives: vitamin E

Omega-3 supplements may prevent skin cancer

The many benefits of omega-3 supplementation, from heart health to anti-inflammatory effects in conditions such as arthritis, are well-known. A new study conducted by researchers at Manchester University has now investigated the potential of omega-3 to protect against skin cancer (1).

Skin cancer is a growing concern in the UK, where rates of malignant melanoma have increased significantly over the last 30 years. In fact, according to Cancer Research UK, incidence rates of this type of cancer have increased more rapidly than any other type of cancer (2). And it is not just a concern for the elderly. In the UK, more than 700 young people between the ages of 17 and 34 are diagnosed with skin cancer every year.

The study is the first of its kind to test the protective benefits of omega-3 on human volunteers. The volunteers were given either a 4g dose of omega-3 or a placebo supplement. They were then exposed to the equivalent of either 8, 15 or 30 minutes of summer midday sun through the use of a light machine.

Fish is the richest food source of omega 3, with mackeral, trout and herring being the strongest source
Fish is the richest food source of omega 3, with mackerel, trout and herring having the highest source of omega 3

This study measured the amount of damage to the immune system, or ‘immunosuppression’ caused by sunlight. Sun exposure and sunburn can actually suppress the immune system, and repeated exposure can cause long term damage to the immune system, making your body more susceptible to skin cancer. The results of this study showed that immunosuppression was 50% lower in those who took the supplement compared to those who were given a placebo.

The beneficial effects were noted in those who were exposed to 8 and 15 minutes of sun, but were not seen in those who underwent 30 minutes of exposure.

Professor Lesley Rhodes at the University’s Photobiology Unit, said this was the first time a study such as this has been carried out on humans. “This study adds to the evidence that omega-3 is a potential nutrient to protect against skin cancer. Although the changes we found when someone took the oil were small, they suggest that a continuous low level of chemoprevention from taking omega-3 could reduce the risk of skin cancer over an individual’s lifetime.”

Other nutritional lines of defence from the sun’s UV rays include antioxidants, which ‘mop up’ some of the oxidative damage caused by the sun. For example, previous research suggests that skin damage from the sun can be reduced by taking 2000mg of Vitamin C alongside 1000IU Vitamin E (3). Citrus fruits are the most obvious choice for those wanting to increase their Vitamin C intake, although green peppers, broccoli and green leafy vegetables are similarly beneficial. Garnishing your meals with chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts or a drizzle of olive oil will also give Vitamin E levels a boost.

While omega-3 oils and antioxidants are no substitute for suncream, these studies suggests it may provide helpful support alongside our usual protective measures. Research into the nutrition’s protective benefits for the skin continues, and Professor Rhodes’ team are currently continuing their investigations with omega-3 at Salford Royal Hospital.

Reference

1. S. M. Pilkington et al. (2013) Randomized controlled trial of oral omega-3 PUFA in solar-simulated radiation-induced suppression of human cutaneous immune responses. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 97 (3): 646 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.112.049494

2. ‘Skin Cancer Incidence Statistics’ Cancer Research UK http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/types/skin/incidence/uk-skin-cancer-incidence-statistics

3. Eberlain-Konig B et al (1998) Protective effect against sunburn of combined systemic ascorbic acid and d-alpha tocopherol. J Am Acad Dermatol 38:45-8

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Choosing the Best Supplements: Part One

Choosing the right kind of supplement is extremely important, and yet the choice available can create lots of confusion. I am frequently asked about how to select the most suitable type of supplement. Will the supplement be absorbed properly, and is a ‘natural’ form always better than a synthetic form? Are capsules better than tablets? Which brand is best? Some simple pointers can help you to choose the right supplement for you.

Is Natural better than Synthetic?

Many people prefer to take vitamins in their natural form as they believe that nutrients derived from plants and other natural materials are more effective. Although this is not always the case, there are certainly instances where this belief holds up. Vitamin E, for example, is almost 40% more potent in its natural form that in its synthetic form. The natural form of Vitamin E is called d-alpha-tocopherol and this natural form, usually derived from wheat germ or soya oil, is undoubtedly superior.

Likewise, the natural form of Vitamin D, cholecalciferol or D3, has a more sustained effect on Vitamin D levels in the body than its synthetic counterpart Vitamin D2.

Generally, however, the natural and synthetic forms of most vitamins and minerals tend to behave in similar ways. Synthetic forms of some nutrients, such as Vitamin C, can in fact work out cheaper and can be more concentrated.

Perhaps the most important consideration is that vitamin supplements derived from natural sources may well contain as yet unknown nutrients that help increase their effectiveness. Vitamin C, for example, is more effective when taken alongside bioflavonoids, and these nutrients are almost always found together in nature. Supplement manufacturers can utilise this natural Vitamin C ‘boost’ by combining a potent synthetic Vitamin C supplement with additional bioflavonoids. By replicating this natural combination manufacturers can improve the supplement’s potency.

Improving supplement absorption

Getting the best out of your supplements also means making sure that you are taking them correctly. There are a number of lifestyle and dietary factors that can affect supplement absorption. Supplements should always be taken separately from alcohol, especially if the supplements contain magnesium or B vitamins. Alcohol lowers levels of digestive enzymes from the pancreas, meaning that supplements may not be broken down and digested (1). Alcohol also damages the cells lining the stomach and intestines, impairing absorption (2).

Cal-mag
Calcium and magnesium are better absorbed alongside proteins

As smoking influences the absorption of minerals such as calcium, it is not recommended to smoke during meal times, especially if you are taking your supplements with a meal.

Stress is another lifestyle factor that can hinder supplement absorption. As stress can effectively shut down digestion, it would be wise to try to take your supplements after a leisurely meal rather than on the run during a busy day.

To ensure maximum absorption, most vitamin and mineral supplements are best taken immediately after a meal. Calcium and magnesium are better absorbed alongside proteins. Vitamins A, E and D are all fat-soluble, and so are best taken alongside a meal containing fats or oils.

Other important factors when choosing a nutritional supplement include bioavailability, the form of delivery (tablet or capsule) and the manufacturing standards of the supplement company.

References

(1) Korsten, M.A. Alcoholism and pancreatitis: Does nutrition play a role? Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):232-237, 1989. 

(2) Feinman, L. Absorption and utilization of nutrients in alcoholism. Alcohol Health & Research World 13(3):207-210, 1989. 

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Alpha-lipoic acid improves blood sugar control in diabetics

A new double-blind controlled study suggests that alpha lipoic acid supplementation may benefit patients with type 2 diabetes (1). Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the condition, accounting for around 90% of diabetes sufferers.

Researchers investigated the effect of alpha lipoic acid supplements on glycemic control and oxidative status of 38 diabetic patients over a period of 6 months.

Alpha Lipoic Acid may help combat type 2 diabetes.
Alpha Lipoic Acid can help increase levels of antioxidants

Alpha-lipoic acid is a naturally occurring antioxidant that is present in every cell in the body. Its function is to help turn glucose into energy. It can help to increase insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake. In fact, previous clinical studies in humans have demonstrated improvement in insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes after supplementation with alpha lipoic acid (2).

Another benefit of alpha lipoic acid is that it can help to increase or maintain levels of other antioxidants including COQ 10, vitamin C, vitamin E and glutathione. This may be of benefit to diabetic patients because this condition leads to increased need for antioxidant protection. Even when diabetes sufferers are able to control their blood sugar well, they are still at risk of other complications as a result of raised levels of free radicals. Complications can include peripheral neuropathy, scar tissue formation and inflammation.

For these reasons, the researchers believe that the antioxidant properties of alpha lipoic acid may offer an additional benefit to diabetes patients.

The thirty-eight volunteers were randomly assigned to receive an alpha lipoic acid supplement (in doses of 300, 600, 900 or 1200 mg/day) or a placebo for 6 months. Each patient was instructed to take their supplement 30 minutes before meals.

All of the patients were receiving standard medical care for their condition, and were either taking prescribed drugs for diabetes, or following a prescribed diet.

After the 6-month period, all patients underwent blood tests to assess glucose levels and signs of oxidation.

The results showed that fasting blood glucose levels were lower in patients who had received alpha lipoic acid. Levels of substances called PGF2α-Isoprostanes, a product of oxidative stress, were also measured. These levels were lower in the alpha lipoic acid group, suggesting that this group also had lower levels of oxidative damage.

The supplements were monitored for safety, and were found to be well tolerated. The researchers state however that a larger test group may be needed to clarify the study’s results.

In the UK, numbers of people diagnosed with diabetes have doubled in the last ten years, and these figures continue to rise (3). Hopefully this study will pave the way for further research into natural adjuncts to standard treatment, to help improve quality of life for those affected.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.

References

1.Porasuphatana S, Suddee S, Nartnampong A, Konsil J, Harnwong B, Santaweesuk A. Glycemic and oxidative status of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus following oral administration of alpha-lipoic acid: a randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled study. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2012;21(1):12-21.

2.Kamenova P. Improvement of insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus after oral administration of alpha-lipoic acid. Hormones (Athens). 2006;5:251-8.

3.Diabetes UK. Diabetes in the UK 2012: Key statistics on diabetes.

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UK Falls Short on Vitamin Intake

It is 100 years since the discovery of vitamins by Polish scientist Casimir Funk. A century later, are we managing to meet our recommended intake of these vital nutrients? A study published last month in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that we are not (1).

The study, a review of national dietary surveys, has highlighted shortfalls in the Western diet, with adults in the UK likely to be deficient in critical nutrients such as Vitamins D and E.

The researchers reviewed the diets of adults in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, and compared them with national recommendations. Data was taken from the more recent national dietary intake surveys from each country as a basis for the analysis.

Of the countries studies, the Netherlands appeared healthiest, with fewer significant vitamin shortfalls compared with the rest of Europe and the US. Data from the UK and the USA showed similar patterns and levels of deficiencies, perhaps reflecting similar dietary habits and lifestyles.

Data from the UK included dietary information for both men and women between the ages of 19 and 49 years old. The results showed that more than 75% of men and women in the UK are deficient in Vitamins D and E, Furthermore, between 50-75% of UK adults are deficient in Vitamin A. Up to 50% of UK women were also found to fall short of the recommended dietary intake of certain B Vitamins such as folic acid and riboflavin.

Fruit Bowl
Fruit can help to maintain your vitamin levels.

The researchers concede that “a gap exists between vitamin intakes and requirements for a significant proportion of the population, even though diverse foods are available.” Increases in the consumption of fast food with low nutritional value probably accounts for this ‘gap’. A diet based on nutrient-dense, organic, whole foods is the best way to meet your nutritional requirements. A healthy diet should also be free from added sugar, refined grains and alcohol which ‘rob’ the body of nutrients.

Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer, DSM Senior Vice-President for Nutrition and Science Advocacy, and one of the study’s authors, concludes that action is needed to ensure that we are getting the vitamins we need for optimal health.  “This research highlights that 100 years after the discovery [of vitamins], there are still major gaps that urgently need closing – to improve people’s long term health and to drive down healthcare costs.”

Failing to meet the recommended levels of vitamins can leave individuals vulnerable to a host of chronic, diet-related diseases. In the UK in particular,  the recent study shows that many are failing to obtain adequate levels of Vitamins A, C and E in our diets. As these vitamins are major antioxidant nutrients, then, this could mean that a large number of the UK population are vulnerable to oxidative damage which is linked to the progression of a huge range of conditions from accelerated ageing and inflammation to cataracts, hypertension and diabetes.

Changing lifestyles mean that, even with the best of intentions, we do not always have the time or opportunity to ensure that we are getting all the nutrients we need from our diet. Processed convenience foods are all too readily available. Furthermore, unavoidable factors such as stress and pollution increase our nutrient needs. Small dietary changes can help to redress the balance. Regular consumption of oily fish, eggs and brightly coloured vegetables will help deliver a balanced of Vitamin A and its precursor beta-carotene, while regular snacks of fresh fruit and raw nuts and seeds will provide Vitamins C and E. For those in need of additional support, a good quality multi-vitamin or antioxidant supplement will help close the gap between vitamin intakes and recommendations.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. Troesch et al (2012) Dietary surveys indicate vitamin intakes below recommendations are common in representative Western countries. Brit J Nutr 108:4, pp. 692-698.

2. Image courtesy of  lynnc

 

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Blood levels of vitamin E seem to be linked to risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

A study (1) in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has found that high blood levels of various forms of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease in later life (in those aged 80 or over).

Vitamin E is actually a group of eight compounds called tocopherols and tocotrienols.  What most people call Vitamin E is actually just one form, alpha-tocopherol.  Vitamin E acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body, protecting it from damage by free radicals (destructive unstable molecules). 

In the study (1) researchers investigated the associations between blood plasma levels of eight forms of vitamin E and Alzheimer’s disease among older individuals.  Over 200 individuals, aged 80 or over, who were dementia free at the start of the study were followed for 6 years.  Their blood levels of the 8 forms of vitamin E  (α-, β-, γ, and δ-tocopherol; α-, β-, γ-, and δ-tocotrienol) were measured at the start of the study and over the six years 57 cases of Alzheimer’s disease were identified.  The researchers found that individuals with the highest levels of total tocopherols, total tocotrienols, or total vitamin E had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to individuals with the lowest levels.  After adjusting for various confounders, the risk was reduced by 45-54%, depending on the vitamin E component.

The study shows an association between blood levels of vitamin E compounds and Alzheimer’s disease risk but does not prove that low levels cause the disease.  The results are, however, significant – previous studies with vitamin E and Alzheimer’s disease have been mixed, this could be, in part, due to their use of only one form of the vitamin rather than the combined forms.  The authors of this study write (1)  “In conclusion, high plasma levels of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk of AD [Alzheimer’s disease] in advanced age. The neuroprotective effect of vitamin E seems to be related to the combination of different forms, rather than to α-tocopherol alone, whose efficacy in interventions against AD is currently debated”.

In a press release (2) the lead study author, Dr Francesca Mangialasche said “Vitamin E is a family of eight natural components, but most studies related to Alzheimer’s disease investigate only one of these components” “We hypothesized that all the vitamin E family members could be important in protecting against AD. If confirmed, this result has implications for both individuals and society, as 70 percent of all dementia cases in the general population occur in people over 75 years of age, and the study suggests a protective effect of vitamin E against AD in individuals aged 80+.

It is important not to self-prescribe high dose vitamin E supplements since studies have linked high dose alpha-tocopherol Vitamin E supplements to several side-effects.  It is always best to check with your medical doctor prior to taking supplements.  Dr Mangialasche commented (2) on the fact that the mix of vitamin E components may be important  “Elderly people as a group are large consumers of vitamin E supplements, which usually contain only ±-tocopherol, and this often at high doses,” “Our findings need to be confirmed by other studies, but they open up for the possibility that the balanced presence of different vitamin E forms can have an important neuroprotective effect.”

Another study (3) has also recently been published which found that “Higher intake of foods rich in vitamin E may modestly reduce long-term risk of dementia and AD [Alzheimer’s disease]”.  The study was conducted in order to track the consumption of major dietary antioxidants and see how that related to long-term risk of dementia.  Over 5300 individuals who were 55 years or older and free of dementia were included in the study and were followed for around 9 years.  Dietary intakes of  vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, and flavonoids incidence of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease were tracked.  Over the course of 9 years dementia developed in 465 participants, of whom 365 were diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease.  After adjustment for potential confounding factors (including age, education, apolipoprotein E 4 genotype, total energy intake, alcohol intake, smoking habits, body mass index, and supplement use) a higher intake of vitamin E at the start of the study was associated with lower long-term risk of dementia.  Compared with participants with the lowest intakes vitamin E, those with the highest intakes were 25% less likely to develop dementia.  Results were similar when risk for Alzheimer’s disease was specifically assessed.  The one-third of study participants with the highest vitamin E consumption typically got around 18.5mg per day.

As mentioned earlier vitamin E is an antioxidant, it protects against oxidative stress which is thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  The brain is a site of high metabolic activity, which makes it vulnerable to oxidative damage, and slow accumulation of such damage over a lifetime may contribute to the development of dementia (3,4).   Again, this study (3) does not prove that vitamin E protects against the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  It simply provides a few clues that need further, more detailed, investigation.  The authors of this study note that further studies are necessary to evaluate the links between the dietary intake of antioxidants and risk for Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s disease is a complex condition with many possible contributing factors.  Studies with diet and antioxidant supplements have been conflicting and it may be that consumption at different points in life has different effects on risk (3,4).   

Food sources of vitamin E include wheat germ, nuts and seeds, vegetable oils and some green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli.  Taking high dose vitamin E supplements is not recommended.  Eating a healthful, balanced diet and keeping active is a great step toward maintaining good health.  Future research into the area of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is bound to elucidate further, more detailed intervention ideas and I look forward to seeing further published studies. 

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease please visit the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and the Alzheimer’s society

(1) Mangialasche F et al.  2010.  High plasma levels of vitamin E forms and reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk in advanced age. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.  20:1029-1037.  DOI: 10.3233/JAD-2010-091450

(2)Press Release.  Karolinska Institutet (2010, July 7). High blood levels of vitamin E reduces risk of Alzheimer’s, Swedish study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/07/100707102439.htm

(3) Elizabeth E. Devore EE et al.  2010.  Dietary Antioxidants and Long-term Risk of Dementia.  Arch Neurol.  67(7):819-825. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2010.144

(4)Press release.  JAMA and Archives Journals (2010, July 13). Eating foods rich in vitamin E associated with lower dementia risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/07/100712162556.htm

Written by Ani Kowal

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