Tocotrienols Offset Stress-Induced Digestive Problems

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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The tocotrienol form of vitamin E has been shown to protect the digestive lining from adverse changes caused by stress. Since this is a widespread problem in modern culture the study has far-reaching health implications.

Your nervous system and digestive systems are highly linked in multiple ways. Communication molecules made and used in your brain are also made and used in your digestive tract and these communication systems are now known to cross-talk with each other. 

Under high stress the nervous system, based on gene-programmed survival strategies, enters a fight or flight response. This higher level of adrenaline impacts the digestive tract, pulling blood from the digestive tract and pooling it around central organs. This is a strategy to divert energy resources away from digesting food and towards fighting or fleeing.

In modern days, this fight or flight response has limited usefulness for many of the types of stressors individuals experience. We often get stressed out by issues that do not require fighting or fleeing, leaving us with outdated survival programming that now works against us.

In general health, your body is constantly making new digestive cells that line the insides of your digestive tract. This is because the contents passing through your digestive tract induce significant wear and tear to the lining, which it must recover from by sheathing off the old cells and making new cells. The out most layer of such cells is new every 24 hours. Several layers deep is new every 48 hours. This is all natural and healthy.

This process is governed by a variety of factors, including the cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) enzyme. COX-1 is regularly active in healthy digestive tract tissue to assist this rejuvenation process. 

In comparison is the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) enzyme that is activated when there is pain. Most non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin block COX-2 and unfortunately also block COX-1. When aspirin blocks COX-1 it increases the risk for digestive bleeding because the lining of the healthy digestive tract is compromised. Over 100,000 Americans are hospitalized every year from digestive bleeding caused by these types of pain killers, resulting in at least 16,500 deaths.

It is also known that emotional stress increases COX-2 signaling while lowering COX-1 signaling. When this is ongoing then damage to the digestive lining occurs. Part of the problem in virtually any person with ongoing digestive distress is too much COX-2 and not enough COX-1. Regardless of whatever problems may be going on within the digestive tract, stress chemicals banging into the digestive tract add to and complicate digestive health – and in some cases are the primary cause of digestive problems.

Many strategies can help correct the imbalance of COX-2 and COX-1. Solving problems and having better stress management skills certainly helps. A variety of nutrients can be used to boost nerve health so nerves can tolerate stress better. The basics are B vitamins, magnesium, DHA, calcium, and flavonoids. 

Another strategy is to take a nutrient that specifically boosts up COX-1, thereby resolving the imbalance between COX-2 and COX-1. This enables the digestive tract to fix itself by generating new cells that form a better digestive lining. In the current study with tocotrienol E, that is exactly what the researchers found.

When animals were exposed to stress, their COX-1 levels were depressed and their digestive linings experienced injury. When they were given tocotrienol E and exposed to the same stress, COX-1 levels were maintained and digestive injury did not occur.

Many of us can feel the impact of stress on our guts. Sometimes we can just sense it. Other times it manifests as constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel, or an increase in specific ulcer-like pain. Tocotrienol E is one of the most potent antioxidants known, and it is now shown to have a specific COX-1 boosting protective mechanism for digestive health. Logically, it would also be an excellent nutrient to help support digestive health in those who need to use pain meds.

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