Enjoying Excellent Health With Viatmin E

Vitamin E is a family of at least eight structurally related fat-soluble vitamins that are active throughout your body. When the first research was conducted on vitamin E early in the 19th century, one type of vitamin E, alpha tocopherol, appeared more important since it was necessary for successful pregnancy and production of offspring. For this reason, researchers named the vitamin “tocopherol,” from the Greek word meaning “to give birth.” Besides alpha tocoperhol, other members of the vitamin E family are also called tocopherols. These members include alpha tocopherol, beta tocopherol, gamma tocopherol, and delta tocopherol. Other members of the vitamin E family are called tocotrienols. These members include alpha, beta, gamma, and delta tocotrienol.

Alpha-tocopherol activates an essential phase II detoxification protein and directly increases the activity of phase II detoxification enzymes. Gamma-tocopherol exhibits anti-inflammatory effects, so it may protect your heart better than the alpha-tocopherol found in most supplements. Gamma-tocopherol is also highly attracted to the nucleus in your cells, which is the site where mutations in your genetic code can promote the development of cancer. Gamma- and delta-tocopherol appear to kill cancer cells by interrupting the synthesis of sphingolipid, a fatty molecule in cell membranes that acts as a signaling messenger to modulate events inside the cell. Both types, as well as alpha tocopherol, are naturally present in foods rich in vitamin E, which include a number of greens (mustard greens, turnip greens, spinach, collards, and kale), sunflower seeds, and almonds.

Vitamin E can:

  • Prevent oxidative stress: Vitamin E helps prevent oxidative stress by working together with vitamin C, glutathione, selenium, and niacin to prevent oxygen molecules from becoming too reactive. Vitamin E also maintains the integrity of cell membranes by protecting them from harmful oxygen free radicals. Vitamin E may be the most important member of this oxidative stress-preventing group. Vitamin E especially helps prevent the oxidation of alpha-linolenic acid  (ALA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), two essential omega-3 fatty acids. It is one of the most efficient chain-breaking antioxidants available, and it is a primary defender against oxidation and lipid peroxidation, which is the creation of unstable molecules containing more oxygen than is usual. Vitamin E may protect against cardiovascular disease by defending against low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol) oxidation and artery-clogging plaque formation.
  • Support healthy skin: Vitamin E allows reactive molecules to strike your cells without causing damage. This “lightening rod” function of vitamin E is particularly apparent in your skin, because vitamin E directly protects your skin from ultraviolet radiation. Vitamin E applied to your skin can prevent UV damage. When your diet contains vitamin E-rich foods, vitamin E can travel to your skin cell membranes and exert this same protective effect.
  • Protect against bladder cancer: One of the benefits of making foods rich in vitamin E a part of your healthy way of eating is an up to 50% reduction in risk of developing bladder cancer. Bladder cancer, which kills 12,500 Americans annually, is the fourth leading cancer killer among men, and is four times more common in men than women.
  • Protect against prostate cancer: Gamma-tocopherol, particularly in combination with other forms of vitamin E such as delta-tocopherol, causes androgen-sensitive prostate cancer cells to self-destruct within 3 days of treatment by interrupting sphingolipid’s synthesis, while leaving healthy cells unaffected. Alpha-tocopherol alone (the kind in most supplements) did not have this effect.
  • Prevent Alzheimer’s disease: A high intake of vitamin E from food, but not from supplements (which usually contain just alpha-tocopherol) is also inversely associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Lower cholesterol. The tocotrienols inhibit cholesterol synthesis and lower blood cholesterol.
  • Assist in cell signaling: Vitamin E may help transfer chemical information from one cell to another, or across different structures inside of a cell. This transfer of chemical information is referred to as “cell signaling,” and many researchers believe that cell signaling cannot accurately take place without the help of vitamin E.

Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, poor absorption of fat in the digestive tract can contribute to vitamin E deficiency. Some specific health conditions that can cause fat malabsorption include pancreatic disease, celiac disease, and gallbladder disease. Premature birth has also been shown to increase risk of vitamin E deficiency in infants. Vitamin E deficiency may also cause peripheral neuropathy–pain, tingling, and loss of sensation in the arms, hands, legs, and feet.

When obtained from food sources alone, vitamin E is not toxic. Vitamin E supplements, in very high doses of 3000 IU or more, can cause intestinal cramps and diarrhea, fatigue, double vision, and muscle weakness. For people with vitamin K deficiency, high intake of vitamin E can prolong bleeding time and interfere with clotting. In 2000, the National Academy of Sciences set a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for vitamin E of 1,000mg (or 1,500 IU of vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocopherol). This daily limit applies to supplemental vitamin E only, and is intended to apply to all individuals age 19 and older.

The recycling of vitamin E in your body depends four other nutrients: vitamin C, glutathione, selenium, and niacin. Vitamin C is required to keep vitamin E in its metabolically active form; glutathione (a very small protein molecule called a tripeptide and consisting of three amino acid building blocks) is required to keep vitamin C in its active form; and selenium (a micromineral) and niacin (in a special form called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-oxidase, or NADPH) are required to keep glutathione in its active form. The fact that vitamin E is so heavily dependent on vitamin C, niacin, selenium, and glutathione means that a diet high in vitamin E cannot have its optimal effect unless it is also rich in foods that provide these other nutrients.

Excellent sources of vitamin E include spinach, turnip greens, and chard. Very good sources of vitamin E include mustard greens, cayenne pepper, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, and asparagus. Good sources of vitamin E include collards, kale, watercress, tomatoes, cranberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, raspberries, papaya, and carrots.

Sources of Vitamin E


Serving Size


Amount (mg)


Sunflower Seeds

0.25 cup





0.25 cup





1 cup cooked





1 cup cooked




Turnip Greens

1 cup cooked




Mustard Greens

1 cup cooked





1 cup cooked





1 cup raw




Bell Peppers

1 cup raw





1 cup cooked




Cayenne Pepper

2 tsp





1 cup





3 cups raw





1 cup raw





1 each





1 cup




Brussels Sprouts

1 cup raw





1 cup raw





2 tsp





0.50 cup




Exposure to air and factory processing can damage the vitamin E content of food. In wheat, for example, where most of the vitamin E is found in the germ layer, commercial processing removes 50-90% of the vitamin E. To help protect their vitamin E content, vegetables oils like olive oil, sunflower seed oil, and peanut oil should be kept in tightly capped containers to avoid unnecessary exposure to air.

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