A diet deficient in vitamin E spells trouble for the brain and could lead to neurological damage by cutting off the supply of basic building blocks.
Researchers at Oregon State University showed that zebrafish fed a diet deficient in vitamin E throughout their life had about 30% lower levels of biomarker DHA-PC placing them at higher risk of Alzheimer's disease.
"This research showed that vitamin E is needed to prevent a dramatic loss of a critically important molecule in the brain, and helps explain why vitamin E is needed for brain health," said Maret Traber, the Helen P Rumbel Professor for Micronutrient Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and lead author on this research.
The findings are published in the Journal of Lipid Research.
DHA-PC is a vital part of the cellular membrane in every brain cell, or neuron. The brain however cannot manufacture it and depends on diet for DHA supplies.
The DHA are carried from the liver by compounds called the lyso PLs, and when these are greatly reduced in a low vitamin E diet, cellular membrane damage and neuronal death follow.
The study saw that fish with a vitamin E deficient diet had on average 60% lower levels of lyso PLs.
"You can't build a house without the necessary materials," Traber said. "In a sense, if vitamin E is inadequate, we're cutting by more than half the amount of materials with which we can build and maintain the brain."
DHA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, or Pufa, increasingly recognised as one of the most important nutrients found in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those provided by fish oils and flaxseeds.
Vitamin E in human diets is most often provided by dietary oils, such as olive oil. But many of the highest levels are in almonds, sunflower seeds or avocados.
Adults need to get 15mg of vitamin E each day, according to the Institute of Medicine. It is possible to get the recommended amount of vitamin E by eating a healthy diet rich in nuts, seeds, greens, pumpkins, avacado, mango and plant oils.