Vitamin E

Facts about Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin. First discovered in 1922, it was originally believed to be the "Fertility Vitamin", hence its name tocopherol "to bring forth offspring". Today, Vitamin E is better known for its powerful role as antioxidant to protect us from free radicals.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), also known as "bad" cholesterol, transport lipids, Vitamin E and the carotenoids through our blood. In turn, Vitamin E protects LDL from oxidation and helps to reduce cholesterol damage caused by fatty deposits in cells and arteries. Thus, Vitamin E improves blood flow to all tissues and looks after our red blood cells. Along with Selenium, it also stabilizes polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), among other fatty acids, and protects them from becoming "rancid".

Vitamin E acts like a traffic warden for cell membranes, allowing Vitamins and other nutrients in while sending waste material out. Our body stores Vitamin E in all body tissues, especially fatty tissues, but also in our liver.

"Dl-alpha tocopherol" or "dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate" are synthetic forms of Vitamin E, and "d-alpha tocopherol", "d-alpha tocopheryl acetate", "d-alpha tocopheryl succinate" are natural forms. It might look complicated, but as Jack Challem & Liz Brown (User’s Guide to Vitamins and Minerals) wrote: "There’s a simple way to remember the difference. The "d" means that it is delicious to your body; conversely, your body doesn’t like the "dl" (or synthetic) form as much".

The conversion of carotene to retinol, as well as the absorption, utilization, and storage of Vitamin A can be enhanced with Vitamin E. On the other hand, if taken in high doses, it may interfere with the absorption of Vitamin A and Vitamin K.

Benefits of Vitamin E

Although best known and recognized for its antioxidant functions, Vitamin E may also assist with:

  • anti-aging
  • blood cell regulation
  • cardiovascular system
  • cell division
  • circulatory system
  • connective tissue growth
  • immune function
  • inflammation
  • nervous system

High doses of Vitamin E may interfere with anti-clotting medicines, for example it might increase the effects of antiplatelet drugs such as aspirin. If you are taking blood thinning medicines, it is very important that you talk to your doctor first before supplementing.

Some possible uses for Vitamin E include the treatment of:

  • acne
  • allergies
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • anaemia
  • arthritis
  • atherosclerosis
  • bee stings
  • bronchitis
  • burns
  • cancer
  • cold sores
  • coronary heart disease
  • cystic fibrosis
  • diabetes
  • epilepsy
  • hair loss
  • hepatitis
  • hypertension
  • impotency
  • infertility
  • menopausal symptoms
  • nappy rash
  • scar tissue
  • sunburn
  • wound healing

More clinical trials need to be carried out to fully explore the potential of Vitamin E.

Vitamin E Deficiency

Although our body stores Vitamin E, we might still be deficient. A deficiency can be caused by poor dietary intake, medicines, or illness. Digestive problems as well as excessive use of laxatives can hinder the absorption of Vitamin E, but also inadequate functioning of our liver, gall or pancreas. Women taking the pill should also consider increasing their Vitamin E intake.

Signs of a deficiency can be:

  • depression
  • dry skin
  • eczema
  • hot flashes
  • infertility
  • low immunity
  • muscle degeneration
  • poor wound healing

Vitamin E Toxicity

Vitamin E is usually considered non-toxic. Nevertheless, if we are under high oxidative stress (e.g. due to certain lifestyle habits, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes) we could run the risk that isolated high doses of Vitamin E, especially in synthetic form, create a potentially dangerous pro-oxidant effect.

Signs of a Vitamin E overdose can be:

  • blurred vision
  • diarrhoea
  • fatigue
  • flatulence
  • headache
  • muscular weakness
  • nausea
  • rash
  • tiredness

Large doses of Vitamin E might potentially thin the blood too much and therefore cause a tendency to bleeding or increase the risk of thromboembolism. It can also use up our Vitamin A stores as well as interfere with Vitamin K function.

Foods high in Vitamin E

A well balanced diet should supply us with sufficient Vitamin E. However, we absorb only up to half of our intake of Vitamin E and simply taking more won’t help. Surprisingly, our absorption rate will decrease with higher intake. Excessive use of mineral oil may also decrease our absorption. Freezing of food as well as exposure to extreme heat, like frying, reduces its Vitamin E potency.

As a fat soluble vitamin, Vitamin E assists diets that are high in fat, but intake may need to increase. We find Vitamin E almost exclusively in plants. Fresh wheat germ is a particularly rich source. Other good sources are:

  • asparagus
  • avocados
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • dairy products
  • egg yolks
  • fortified cereals
  • kiwi
  • mango
  • nuts and seeds
  • shrimp
  • spinach
  • sweet potatoes
  • vegetable oils
  • wheat germ
  • whole grains

The current Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine states for a healthy adult male or female 15mg which is equivalent to 22.4 IU of the natural form of Vitamin E and 33.3 IU of the synthetic form. An upper level (UL) intake of 1,000mg is considered to be safe. The Nutrient Reverence Values (NRVs) for Australia and New Zealand are more conservative with 10mg for a healthy adult male, 7mg for a healthy adult female, and 300mg as the upper level considered to be save.

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