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Vitamin E and your health

Vitamin E is a common sight on the ingredient list of skin creams and ointments. But it does much more than nourish, protect and heal the skin. It is major anti-oxidant, protecting the entire body, cells, connective tissue, organs, as well as other nutrients (unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin C and B-complex vitamins) from being damaged and altered by oxidation. Its protective action extends to protecting the body from environmental toxins and toxic chemicals. Some more, some less, but there is hardly an organ, or tissue in our body that doesn't benefit from the presence of vitamin E.

Variety of foods provide good supply of vitamin E; however, diets based on processed foods and meat can be deficient in it. Also, people with compromised fat digestion will also have potentially significantly reduced vitamin E absorption. In addition, chlorine from chlorinated water - as well as other antagonists (inorganic iron, synthetic estrogen) will suppress vitamin E levels in the body.

Vitamin E deficiency can result in a number of symptoms, stemming from the increased oxidation and damage of various tissues and organs. It includes hemolytic (red blood cell) anemia, dermatitis, irritability, cardiovascular diseases, fibrocystic breast disease, leg cramps, gallstones, cataract, and others.

Underweight newborns are commonly deficient in vitamin E, which needs to be promptly corrected.

Obviously, it is wise to make sure you are not vitamin E deficient. However, excessive vitamin E intake, as is the case with most other nutrients, is not recommended. While it is stored only in small quantities and, thus, less toxic than vitamins A or D, and relatively as harmless as vitamin K (the fourth fat-soluble vitamin), it still can cause adverse effects if overdosed, especially with some preexisting health conditions present. Possible effects include immunity disruptions, altered blood clotting, fatigue, blood pressure disturbance, cardiovascular disease, and others.

Vitamin E DRI (Dietary Reference Intakes, the most recent set of dietary recommendations set by the government) for an average healthy adult (male or female) is 15mg of alpha-tocopherol equivalents a day (in lactation increased to 19mg). Alpha tocopherol (or d-alpha-tocopherol) is the most active form of the group of eight natural forms of vitamin E. Synthetic vitamin E form commonly used in fortified foods, dl-alpha-tocopherol, has lower potency.

Vitamin E International Unit (I.U.) represents the potency of 1mg of the synthetic alpha-tocopherol acetate E vitamin form. Its natural d-alpha-tocopherol form has the potency of 1.49 I.U, and synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol 1.1 I.U (synthetic forms have the dl- prefix, and natural forms d- prefix, or "mixed tocopherols" label).

Thus the effective intake depends on the form of vitamin E ingested; the officially recommended intake of synthetic vitamin E would be ~20mg, the equivalent of 15mg d-alpha-tocopherol, or 22.3 I.U. a day. It is educated opinion that, regardless of the official rating of different vitamin E forms, its most effective form in more complex ways that we are capable of explaining at this moment is its complete natural form, which is a mix of 4 tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and 4 tocotrienols (also alpha, beta, gamma and delta).

While all eight basic forms have similar molecular structure, and antioxidative activity, their specific effects vary (for instance, alpha tocopheryl succinate - an ester form of tocopherol and succinic acid - may have higher anti-cancer activity, alpha tocotrienol is more effective in protecting brain cells from glutamate induced death, and gamma tocopherol has unique function of scavenging reactive nitrogen species).

Avoid synthetic form of Vitamin E; it is less efficient, and there are indications that can even be harmful.

These official vitamin E intake recommendations are seen by many as exceedingly low. In today's highly polluted environment, the optimum vitamin E intake levels are more likely between 400I.U. and 800I.U. a day. Also, optimum intake of vitamin E depends on the intake of unsaturated fatty acids. The recommended ratio is 0.4mg of d-alpha-tocopherol per 1g of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Best natural food sources of vitamin E are cold pressed wheat germ oil, sweet potato, seeds, nuts, whole grains, olive oil and leafy vegetables.