Vitamin E Improves Radiation Damage
Taking high-dose vitamin E may improve brain function in people who have suffered damage as a result of radiation treatment for a type of throat cancer, according to a study in Cancer (2004;100:398–404).
Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a cancer that develops in the upper part of the throat behind the nose. Radiation therapy directed at the tumor—standard treatment for all stages of NPC—can result in damage to, or death of, healthy cells and tissue in the front of the brain, causing what is known as temporal lobe radionecrosis (TLN). Seven percent of people treated with radiation for NPC develop TLN. Damage to this area of the brain can cause difficulty with language, memory, and movement (motor function). Currently, there is no treatment that helps people suffering from TLN.
Radiation therapy generates highly reactive chemicals known as free radicals, which are thought to partly contribute to TLN. In other research, vitamin E has been found to protect cells from free-radical damage and to reduce cell death.
In the current study, 29 people with TLN caused by radiation therapy for NPC participated. Of these, 19 were treated with 1,000 IU of vitamin E two times each day for one year, and 10 received no supplemental vitamin E (control group). Assessments of brain function including overall performance, verbal and visual memory, attention, language, and the ability to carry out tasks were performed before the study and after one year. The improvement in overall cognitive performance, verbal and visual memory, and executive function was significantly greater in the vitamin E-treated group compared with the control group at the end of one year. There were no significant differences in attention or language abilities between the two groups.
This study is the first to document the positive effect of vitamin E on people with TLN. Other studies have shown vitamin E to have positive effects on brain function. Taking vitamin E has also been found to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and to protect elderly people from mental decline.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Beauchamp is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc. in Wakefield, RI. Her emphasis is on women’s health, pediatrics, and detoxification.
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