Benefits of Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Vitamin E (tocopherol) is an important nutrient that is considered to be the most powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant used by the body. Antioxidants are compounds that serve to protect body cells, tissues, and organs from damage caused by free radicals through oxidation. Cellular damage caused by free radicals is thought to contribute to numerous diseases and disorders, including heart disease and cancer. Some of vitamin E’s important health benefits include:
- Vitamin E’s antioxidant properties are thought to help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Free radicals cause oxidative damage to DNA, which can cause cells to mutate. Sometimes, this mutation can cause cells to reproduce in an uncontrolled manner, leading to cancer and tumors. Vitamin E can help inhibit the formation of free radicals, reducing the damage they can do.
- This nutrient protects the heart by reducing the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol), thereby inhibiting the formation of plaque in arteries and veins.
- Vitamin E is critical for the production and development of red blood cells, muscles, and other body tissues.
- It maintains and strengthens the integrity and stability of cellular membranes. Vitamin E is especially important for protecting the health of the skin, eyes, and liver.
- Skin creams containing vitamin E are used to heal skin and protect it from damage caused by free radicals. It is also used to relieve and treat itching and dryness.
Protecting and healing skin is one of vitamin E’s most well-known health benefits and uses.
The function of Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Vitamin E is a broad label that identifies a family of fat-soluble nutrients known as tocopherols and tocotrienols. Vitamin E consists of four of each of these compounds, respectively called alpha, beta, gamma, or delta, depending on their specific chemical structure. It is one of the most powerful antioxidant nutrients that the human body can utilize.
Alpha-tocopherol is the type of vitamin E that is the most active in the human body. It is the only form of vitamin E actively distributed through the bloodstream and is the form that exists in the largest amounts in the body. In most food products, alpha-tocopherol makes up about 75% of the total amount of vitamin E present. Gamma-tocopherol makes up about 20%. Beta-tocopherol and alpha-tocotrienol make up the remaining 5%.
The majority of the vitamin E (around 90%) that is stored in the body is located within adipose tissues. The remaining 10% is mostly stored inside cell membranes. The body absorbs vitamin E using a very slow process. Studies have found that at least two years of supplementation would be required to make a measurable impact on tocopherol concentrations in the body.
Vitamin E’s most critical functions include stabilizing cell membranes and protecting body tissues against oxidative damage. This nutrient functions as an extremely effective antioxidant which limits the damage caused by free radicals. This, in turn, can help reduce the risk of both heart disease and cancer. Vitamin E creams used on the skin are thought to speed up healing, as well as guard the skin against further damage.
A deficiency of vitamin E is known to negatively affect the central nervous system and can eventually result in progressive neuromuscular disorders. An extended deficiency can lead to slowed reflexes, muscle weakness, and problems maintaining balance. A deficiency of vitamin E is also known to cause an increased risk of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Dietary sources of vitamin E include various foods that are readily available and regularly consumed. Therefore, deficiencies are rare in the general population. Food sources include vegetable oils, whole grain products (wheat germ), nuts, fish, and dark-green leafy vegetables. Vitamin E is found inside the germ of grains. Therefore, whole-wheat flour contains much more vitamin E than flours that are white or refined. These types of processed flours remove much of the vitamin E, as well as other nutrients contained inside the germ.
There is a low risk of vitamin E overdose or toxicity, as the body usually handles excessive vitamin E well. However, certain side effects have been known to occur in people taking large doses of vitamin E. This usually only occurs while taking large dosages via supplementation.