Vitamin E gives mice a longer, more acrobatic life
17:00 02 September 2005
NewScientist.com news service
Vitamin E improved the acrobatic prowess of mice given a tightrope walking test, well into old age
Vitamins face tough safety tests in Europe
High doses of vitamin E may help mice live longer, according to a new study by Spanish and Argentinean researchers.
Male mice given the vitamin lived an average 40% longer than their peers and showed a much higher level of acrobatic prowess when they performed on a high-wire tightrope, the researchers found. The improvements were due to the vitamin’s antioxidant properties, they say.
The mice used in the study were of a strain with accelerated ageing, with an average lifespan of 61 weeks. At 28 weeks of age half of the study’s 300 mice were given daily supplements of vitamin E, equivalent to a dosage of about 1.2 - 2.2 grams per day in humans (a level which is as much as five times the upper limit recommended by the US national dietary guidelines).
The mice that had received vitamin E supplements lived an average 85 weeks – 40% longer than normal. No negative side effects of the high dose were observed by the researchers.
But long life is not necessarily associated with quality, so Ana Novarro and colleagues from the University of Cadiz in Spain, and Alberto Boveris and colleagues from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, looked at the creatures’ abilities to perform various tests.
They found that those on the vitamin E diet were better than the others at crossing a 50 centimetre-high wire tightrope and negotiating a T-shaped maze. And as they reached a grand old age (78 weeks), the differences were more stark – while those on a normal diet deteriorated rapidly, the mice given regular vitamin E continued to perform well, performing up to 45% better at tests.
“The vitamin acted as an antioxidant in the mice, slowing the ageing process,” Boveris explains. They found that the mice that had received vitamin E showed reduced levels of free radical mediated reactions and oxidative damage in their mitochondria, the cell’s power packs, than other mice.
“Normally in ageing there is an increase in products of oxidation, but the mice on vitamin E actually showed a reduction. And the protective effects were particularly noticeable in the brain,” Boveris says. He admits that he has increased his personal intake of the vitamin to 400 mg per day.
The researchers also found that vitamin E supplements were “able to prevent the decrease in the activities of brain enzymes that are mitochondrial markers of ageing” by substantial levels.
The findings contrast with those of a small 2004 meta-study into daily doses of vitamin E in humans, which found that the supplement may hasten death in high doses. The lead author of that study, Edgar Miller from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, US, suggested that in high doses the vitamin could increase bleeding and stroke risk in people taking blood thinning drugs, or that it may become a “turncoat” free radical and damage the proteins and fats it usually protects.
Boveris and Novarro are about to begin a new study in mice to see if they can repeat their results with smaller doses of vitamin E.
The new research appears in the online edition of the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.
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