Vitamin E Can Add Value to Brain Health

Assorted foods rich in Vitamin E | Vitamin E can add value to brain health article MCI 911

by Ari Magill, MD

Vitamin E has been studied for more than two decades to assess its ability to assist preservation of cognitive function with aging. Although the results are mixed, there is evidence that it may decrease risk of developing both mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Investigators evaluated the effect of total vitamins E, C, and beta-carotene consumption on cognitive performance over a period of three years, using neurological testing.1 Results revealed that subjects with the highest vitamin E intake, from food sources and supplementation, had significantly less cognitive deterioration compared to subjects with the lowest levels.

Scientists examined the correlation between plasma levels of the vitamin and the occurrence of dementia and cognitive impairment.2 They enrolled 1033 seniors who donated their blood for determination of vitamin E level, answered questions about their diet and lifestyle, and completed clinical and neuropsychological testing. Participants with the lowest plasma levels of vitamin E were more than twice as likely to demonstrate dementia or MCI.

Researchers compared serum tocopherol levels (see Sidebar) in patients with age-related cognitive decline and MCI to normal controls.3 They included 31 articles into their metanalysis and evaluated the full complement of subtypes (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta). Results showed significantly lower alpha tocopherol levels in those with cognitive impairment vs the normal group. The blood levels of the other tocopherols did not significantly differ between the cohorts.

What is Vitamin E’s Makeup?

Vitamin E consists of a family of fat-soluble (associates with fats and separates from water) compounds derived from plants consisting of eight members: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. They are powerful antioxidants that safeguard the cell membrane and other cellular components from assault from reactive oxidative species. Both the tocopherols and the tocotrienols are organized into four subtypes labeled by the Greek letters, alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Alpha tocopherol is the most bioactive vitamin E subtype in the human body, and the one found in greatest concentration in the blood and tissues.4, a

Morris Water Maze

A procedure in which a rodent is placed in a large pool of water and is required to find a platform in order to escape.

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From the Laboratory

Investigators studied the cognitive effects of oral supplement administration in senior rats.5 They fed the rodents a vitamin E-enriched diet and, using a maze, compared their learning and memory performance to rats fed a standard diet. Those on the treatment meal plan were able to learn the location of the hidden platform very quickly, while the control group showed great difficulty. After 48 hours without maze exposure, the vitamin-E group demonstrated much better memory retention compared to the untreated animals, whose memory performance decreased by 60 percent.


Safety of higher doses of alpha tocopherol greater than 400 IU daily, particularly in individuals suffering from chronic diseases, is concerning.6 However, the largest study on the topic found no increased mortality with those doses up to 5500 IU daily.7 An analysis on 847 suspected AD patients actually found a decreased mortality risk at a vitamin E dose of 2000 IU daily.8 Vitamin E does increase bleeding risk by inhibiting the function of platelets (the specialized cells that clump together to aid in clot and scab formation).9 Thus, caution is advised for those taking aspirin or other blood thinners; check with your physician.


Overall, the data suggest that the supplement might help decrease the risk of developing cognitive impairment. Food-sourced vitamin E may provide the most benefit, perhaps in part because it contains the entire family of tocopherols and tocotrienols. A recent study suggests that gamma tocopherol (plentiful in the substance’s food sources but absent in most of its supplements), has unique abilities to improve mitochondrial function and reduce programmed cell death.10 Foods high in Vitamin E include plant-based nuts, oils, seeds, fruit and vegetables (e.g., almonds, sunflower oil, mango, avocado, and spinach).


a While gamma tocopherol it the most plentiful subtype found in food, only alpha tocopherol binds to a transfer protein where it is shuttled out of the liver into the blood stream via carrier molecules composed of lipids (fats) and proteins, called lipoproteins.


  1. Morris MC, et al. Vitamin E and cognitive decline in older persons. Arch Neurol. 2002;59(7):1125-1132. doi: 10.1001/archneur.59.7.1125.
  2. Cherubini A, et al. Vitamin E levels, cognitive impairment and dementia in older persons: the InCHIANTI study. Neurobiol Aging. 2005;26(7):987-994. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2004.09.002.
  3. Takatsu H, et al. Effect of vitamin E on learning and memory deficit in aged rats. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 2009;55(5):389-393. doi: 10.3177/jnsv.55.389.
  4. Higdon J, Drake VJ, Delage B. Vitamin E Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University. 2015.
  5. Bradley-Whitman MA, Lovell MA. Biomarkers of lipid peroxidation in Alzheimer disease (AD): an update. Arch Toxicol. 2015;89(7):1035-1044. doi: 10.1007/s00204-015-1517-6.
  6. Miller III ER, et al. Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality. Ann Intern Med. 2005;142(1):37-46. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-142-1-200501040-00110.
  7. Abner EL, et al. Vitamin E and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis. Curr Aging Sci. 2011;4(2):158-170.
  8. Pavlik VN, et al. Vitamin E use is associated with improved survival in an Alzheimer’s disease cohort. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord.2009;28(6):536-540. doi: 10.1159/000255105.
  9. Steiner M. Influence of vitamin E on platelet function in humans. J Am Coll Nutr. 1991;10(5):466-473. doi: 10.1080/07315724.1991.10718173.
  10. Arrozi AP, et al. Comparative effects of alpha-and gamma-tocopherol on mitochondrial functions in Alzheimer’s disease in vitro model. Sci Rep.2020;10(1):8962. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-65570-4.

About the Author

Dr. Ari Magill is a holistic neurologist and medical consultant based in Mesa, AZ. He received medical school training at University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas and residency training at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He is passionate about finding innovative treatments for cognitive impairment, emphasizing lifestyle change and natural supplements.