A new study by Canadian researchers at Royal Victoria Hospital in Quebec has shown that a moderate daily intake of vitamin E through foods appears to prevent the onset of Parkinson's disease.
The disease, which is a devastating and progressive neurological condition, is characterized by tremor, stiffness, impaired gait and difficulty swallowing, and it is estimated that 1 in every 100 people over the age of 60 has the disease in the U.S.
Dr. Mayhar Etminan, the study's lead investigator, says that it has been known for some time that oxidation may be a contributor to neuronal death in the area of the brain responsible for Parkinson's disease.
Vitamin E belongs to a class of nutrients known as antioxidants, and antioxidants have the ability to suppress rogue oxygen molecules known as free radicals by adding an electron to the radicals which stops their tissue-destroying activity.
His findings, says Etminan, suggests that moderate vitamin E intake of about 15 milligrams per day offered some protection while vitamin C and beta carotene offered no risk-lowering benefits. His research combined the results of eight other studies to reach the new conclusion.
He found evidence that the patients with the highest intake of vitamin E were less likely to develop Parkinson's, and that protection appeared linked not to supplements, but foods which were rich in vitamin E such as nuts, avocados and sunflower seeds.
Dr. Enrico Fazzini, director of the Manhattan Center of the American Parkinson's Disease Association, says that while the Canadian study is intriguing it does not provide ample proof.
Fazzini would prefer to see a large number of Parkinson's patients monitored over a decade and objective measures such as positron emission tomography and radiographic evidence produced to establish whether the disease had been stalled or forced into retreat.
Etminan's work did include imaging studies but he did not interview individuals. He says however that he hopes further studies of the vitamin will continue and someone will take on the hypothesis and do a stronger study.
The report of his analysis is published in Lancet Neurology.