Palm oil vitamin E to keep stroke at bay

Below is a palm oil nutrition article written by my colleague at New Sunday Times, Shanti Gunaratnam.

KEBALA BATAS: Universiti Sains Malaysia and the Malaysian Palm Oil Board have come up with a supplement that may be able to help prevent strokes. The supplement is supplied by a private company called Carotech Bhd.

Clinical trials are being conducted involving 400 volunteers at Kepala Batas Hospital and initial findings have so far been positive.

The project's lead researcher, Prof Dr Yuen Kah Hay of USM's school of pharmaceutical sciences, said it was found that Vitamin E tocotrienols derived from palm oil reduced and eliminated white matter lesions associated with stroke.

White matter lesions are commonly seen in older people and those with a history of hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol as well as people suffering from dementia, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

"We have seen this positive development in some of the volunteers during clinical trails," Dr Yuen said.

"During a stroke, brain cells die but with tocotrienols, we noticed that the brains cells come back to life. Our clinical trials have shown that tocotrienols are neuro- and cardio-protective."

Tocotrienols, part of the Vitamin E family, are found in numerous natural sources, with oil extracted from palm fruit having the highest content of tocotrienols.

Stroke is the third major killer in Malaysia after cardiovascular disease and cancer. Malaysia has more than 50,000 cases of stroke annually, with 3,300 fatalities. There is no known drug yet for stroke prevention. The findings of the clinical trials is expected to be revealed early next year.

"Tocotrienols also lower cholesterol levels, but our focus is on stroke prevention. This is because there are already many statin drugs that improve blood cholesterol levels in the market. However, there is none for stroke," said Dr Yuen.

"We wanted to have multiple sites for clinical trials but the cost was too high. In the past three years, we received RM3 million in funding from the board to conduct research on a bigger scale."

Carotech Bhd managing director David Ho said once the findings were revealed, the supplement would be big news worldwide. "People all over the world are looking for preventive and not curative medicine. Tocotrienols not only work for strokes but also lower cholesterol levels, fight cancer, has anti-ageing properties and aid in a host of other diseases.

"So far, the data gathered has been encouraging. People should take the supplement because it does not have any side-effects compared with pharmaceutical drugs. Stroke prevention is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide."

Ho also said looking after stroke patients was costly for both hospitals and families. "Some stroke patients are incapacitated for years and this can put a financial burden on families. In America, one person is brought down by stroke every second. "Based on the sedentary lifestyle that Malaysians are leading, we, too, are heading in that direction."

Glad to volunteer in clinical trials
HOUSEWIFE Tan Eng Hua decided to volunteer as a participant in the clinical trial on palm oil Vitamin E tocotrienols because her younger sister suffered a stroke.
"I am living in Kota Kinabalu but decided to return to Kepala Batas to look after my aged mother and sister. It was my sister who asked me to take part in the clinical trial," said the 60-year-old. 

Tan had to undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on her brain to determine whether she had white matter lesions that increased the risk of stroke. Luckily for her, the MRI didn't show any white matter abnormalities. She, however, could still participate in the "double blind clinical study".
"Since participating in the clinical trials, I have started eating right and exercising. Both my parents are diabetic and have hypertension, so I have to be careful," said Tan.
The clinical trials, conducted by 10 scientists, will conclude next year.

Another volunteer, Azmi Yahaya, 56, knows what a stroke can do to the body because he is the primary caregiver to his aged mother.  Azmi's mother is bedridden and needs round-the-clock care since she suffered a stroke five years ago.

The army retiree, who owns padi fields in Kepala Batas, learned of the clinical trials through a friend. "My mother, who is still mentally sharp, has been incapacitated by stroke. It is important that I look after myself.

"Luckily, I do not have any bad habits like smoking or drinking. I get plenty of exercise working in the padi fields from dawn till dusk, which is probably why I am still healthy. But I cannot take my health for granted. That is why I decided to have my brain checked for white matter lesions through the MRI," said Azmi.

Teacher Ganesan Appavoo, 46, who was diagnosed with diabetes four years ago, has been part of the clinical trials for two years. Since his parents are both diabetic, Ganesan said it didn't come as a shock to him when he was diagnosed with the disease.

Instead of moaning and groaning about it, he started exercising and eating well to control his blood-glucose levels. Then, a friend told him about the clinical trials at Kepala Batas Hospital and he became a volunteer.

"I live in Sungai Petani and the hospital is just 20 minutes away. I come in for my medical checkup every three months and the doctors have put me on tocotrienols. The supplement boosts my energy levels," he said.

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