Tocotrienols Protect the Heart from Radiation Injury

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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A new study with tocotrienols expands on their existing radiation protecting science. It shows a high level of protection for the heart against adverse radiation changes that otherwise lead to increased risk for heart disease. While this information has general health value for everyone, it is of particular interest for any person who needs to have chest x-rays or CT scans, including heart scans looking for calcification. It is especially important for cancer radiation treatment of the lungs or breasts, where radiation induced heart disease is an adverse side effect.

Radiation sets off a chain reaction of free radical damage. While your body and its antioxidant enzyme systems are designed to handle a certain amount of free radical damage, radiation reactions trigger the production of the most damaging free radical, peroxynitrite. Indeed, using radiation to kill a tumor works because the radiation generates peroxynitrite radicals within the tumor and thereby kills it. The problem is that such radiation treatment is a shotgun approach; it also injures nearby tissues and sets the stage for future disease in those tissues. For example, CT scans are widely overused as diagnostic tools, especially in children, setting the stage for future cancer risk. 

It is quite true that the radiation issue is dose dependent. However, everyone is exposed to higher levels of ionizing radiation, including flying in airplanes.  There may be times when a person needs an x-ray or CT scan, although such exposures should be minimized whenever possible.  And, there is always the risk of a nuclear accident, as we saw in Japan. As the cumulative lifetime dose of radiation increases, especially with concentrated events, then risks for damage from peroxynitrite free radicals rises.

Previously, I reported that tocotrienols can protect against radiation induced peroxynitrite free radicals as well as protect the blood cells from radiation damage. This is due to the superior antioxidant properties of tocotrienol E, compared to regular vitamin E.

In the latest study animals were exposed to one dose of high level chest radiation; some were pretreated with tocotrienols and some were not.  In those not treated, the radiation suppressed specific factors that enable heart cells to survive –  an effect that lasted 10 weeks with some effects up to nine months.  Furthermore, cancer causing genes were activated in heart cells – an effect that lasted four to six months. In other words, radiation depressed the survival of heart cells while it simultaneously turned on cancer genes – effects that lasted for months. In the animals pretreated with tocotrienols all adverse changes caused by the radiation were gone in two weeks.

In my review article on tocotrienols, Tocotrienols: Twenty Years of Dazzling Cardiovascular and Cancer Research, I explain the broad use of this powerful nutrient for general cardiovascular health as well as its intriguing history in cancer research. This new study confirms the potent antioxidant and protective effects of tocotrienols, making them the best form of vitamin E for your good health.

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