Vitamin E

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant in the body, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It exists in eight different forms, with alpha-tocopherol being the most biologically active form in humans.

What is Vitamin E?

In scientific and medical terms, vitamin E actually refers to a group of eight fat-soluble molecular compounds that can broadly be separated into two groups: tocopherols and tocotrienols.

The most common form in the Western diet, and that which is most biologically available for use, is γ-Tocopherol, which can be found in soybean oil, corn oil, margarine, and any food items that contain these as ingredients, such as salad dressings and marinades.

α-tocopherol is the second-most abundant, and is naturally occurring in sunflower oil, wheat germ oil, and safflower oil. Vitamin E can be also be found in nuts such as walnuts and almonds.

Many Vitamin E supplements are artificially extracted or produced in a laboratory.

Health Benefits of Vitamin E

Known primarily for its functions as an antioxidant, vitamin E promises to hold health benefits for a wide range of people and a variety of health problems. Vitamin E has long been used to address and improve many different problematic symptoms of various health concerns, and its benefits continue to be studied in clinical trials.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. There are many essential biological functions in which vitamin E plays a role, namely enzymatic activities, communication between cells, and the expression of various genes. Vitamin E also plays a role in neurological activities.

Here are some of the potential health benefits associated with vitamin E:

Antioxidant Protection: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can contribute to aging and various chronic diseases.

Skin Health: Vitamin E is often used in skincare products for its potential benefits to the skin. It may help protect the skin from sun damage, promote wound healing, and reduce the appearance of scars. Some people also take vitamin E supplements for skin health, though its efficacy in this regard is a subject of ongoing research.

Heart Health: Vitamin E may contribute to cardiovascular health by preventing the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Oxidized LDL cholesterol is believed to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

Immune System Support: Vitamin E plays a role in supporting the immune system. It helps maintain the integrity of cell membranes, which is important for the proper functioning of immune cells.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Some studies suggest that vitamin E may have anti-inflammatory properties, which could be beneficial in conditions involving chronic inflammation.

Neurological Health: Vitamin E is present in high concentrations in the brain, and its antioxidant properties may contribute to neurological health. Some research has explored its potential role in cognitive function and neurodegenerative diseases, although more studies are needed in this area.

Cancer Prevention: There is ongoing research into the potential role of antioxidants, including vitamin E, in reducing the risk of certain cancers. However, findings are not conclusive, and the relationship between vitamin E supplementation and cancer prevention is complex.

Antioxidant Effects of Vitamin E

The primary and most recognised role of vitamin E is as an antioxidant, which is a term that is often over-used in many aspects. As an antioxidant, vitamin E helps to neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause damage to cells and contribute to aging and various chronic diseases. By neutralizing these free radicals, vitamin E helps to protect cells and tissues from oxidative stress.

While antioxidants are essential to the healthy functioning of the human body, they are not miracle compounds that can be touted to “reverse” aging – this is biologically impossible and beyond the limitations of any natural compound. However, ensuring that you have a healthy and normal amount of antioxidants in your body means that you can enjoy the expectations of normal health and well-being.

Anti-Aging Effects of Vitamin E

As an antioxidant, vitamin E specifically acts as a scavenger of peroxyl radicals reacting with, attaching to, and deactivating peroxyl (hydrogen peroxide based) molecules in the body. The concept of free radicals and their impact on the body stems from the Free-radical Theory of Aging, first proposed in the 1950s by Denham Harman.

Free radicals are a group of naturally occurring compounds that are by-products of respiration and breathing in all living organisms. Theoretically, these oxidative free radicals increase over time, thereby giving rise to the various effects of aging that can be observed. In the 1970s, Harman refined his theory to suggest that oxidative damage occurs to the mitochondria in cells (the “powerhouses” of the cell) which might give rise to harmful mutations in DNA such as cancer and other diseases.

Including antioxidants in our diet can help to eliminate free radicals and perhaps decrease the rate of damage that free radicals might be doing to our mitochondria. Since Vitamin E is fat-soluble, it can permeate through the lipid cell membranes and thereby scavenge for free radicals from inside cells. If the free-radical theory of aging holds true, then antioxidants are perhaps some of the most important compounds in improving our health.

Other Health Benefits of Vitamin E

In addition to its role as an antioxidant, vitamin E is also involved in immune function, skin health and other physiological processes. It may also play a role in promoting cardiovascular health by helping to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is a key step in the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Medical Studies on Vitamin E

We lack the medical evidence to strongly come down on one side of the issue or the other, for now, so in the meantime it is a good idea to just be informed, yet remain sceptical of any miracle claims until good evidence supports it and the medical community gets on board.

Using vitamin E as a supplement might have some use as an antioxidant in the goal of slowing down oxidative damage in the body. Vitamin E might also have some other uses. Having healthy levels of vitamin E in the body means that gene expression and other metabolic functions operate on a smooth level. One clinical study found that women who had lower vitamin E intake during the second trimester had a higher risk of insulin resistance and hyperglycemia later in pregnancy.

There is much study left to be done in the world of vitamin E supplementation. As of yet, most studies surrounding vitamin E have been done using only α-tocopherol. Whilst it is one of the most common forms of the vitamin, it is just one of the eight forms the vitamin occurs in.

How to Take Vitamin E

Good food sources of vitamin E include; nuts, seeds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, and wheat germ oil) and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin E supplements are also available and are sometimes used to help meet dietary needs or address specific health concerns. However, it’s important to be cautious with supplementation, as excessive intake of vitamin E can have adverse effects and may interfere with blood clotting in high doses.

Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin E

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E varies depending on age and sex. Here are the current RDAs for vitamin E established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly known as the Institute of Medicine):

0-6 months: 4 milligrams per day (mg/day) of alpha-tocopherol
7-12 months: 5 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol

1-3 years: 6 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol
4-8 years: 7 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol
9-13 years: 11 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol

Adolescents and Adults:
Males 14 years and older: 15 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol
Females 14 years and older: 15 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol
Pregnant females 14-50 years: 15 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol
Lactating females 14-50 years: 19 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol

It’s worth noting that these recommendations are for alpha-tocopherol, the most biologically active form of vitamin E. If you’re taking supplements, be sure to check the label for the alpha-tocopherol content to ensure you’re meeting your dietary needs without exceeding safe levels.

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Vitamin E Notes / Side Effects

Whilst vitamin E is beneficial, excessive supplementation may have adverse effects. It’s generally recommended to obtain nutrients, including vitamin E, through a balanced and varied diet.

High dosages of vitamin E can be dangerous, as can high dosage of any vitamin or supplement. If vitamin E is low in the blood, then vitamin E supplementation can be a viable option. Many credible health agencies have set the daily limit at around 1,000 mg (1,500 IU) per day.

If considering vitamin E supplements, it’s advisable to consult with healthcare professionals to determine appropriate dosages and ensure they align with individual health needs.


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