The term “Vitamin E” refers to a family of eight (8) related, lipid-soluble, antioxidant compounds widely distributed in plants.
The tocopherol and tocotrienol subfamilies are each composed of alpha, beta, gama and delta vitamers having unique biological effects. Different ratios of these compounds are found in anatomically different parts of a plant. For example, the green parts of a plant contain mostly alpha tocopherol and the seed germ and bran contain mostly tocotrienols.
Among some in the scientific community, 400 IU or more of supplemental vitamin E a day may reduce the risk of heart attacks in healthy people. Some also believe that those with pre-existing coronary artery disease may benefit from high doses of vitamin E (800 to 1,600 IU a day.
Some research indicates that vitamin E at far higher doses than the normal daily requirement may be helpful for preventing or treating various medical conditions. These uses include treating menstrual pain, cardiac autonomic neuropathy (a complication of diabetes), low sperm count, restless leg syndrome, inflammation of eye tissues, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin E also might improve seniors’ immune response.
The Most Recent Research
Vitamin E was long touted for preventing cardiovascular disease. But, most recent studies have failed to support that premise. However, many of these studies looked only at people already at high risk for heart disease or with a prior history of the condition. Further research is underway.
Vitamin E also once was considered a promising treatment for preventing several kinds of cancer. However, current evidence points only that it may help in the prevention of prostate cancer.
Natural vs. Synthetic
Natural vitamin E is derived from vegetable oils, primarily soybean oil. Synthetic vitamin E is produced from petrochemicals. Natural vitamin E is a single stereoisomer while synthetic E is a mixture of eight stereoisomers – only one of which is the same as natural vitamin E. The other seven stereoisomers have different molecular configurations and lower biological activities.
Here is the best way to identify “natural vitamin E.” We often say the “dl” stands for “don’t like.”
natural = d alpha-tocopherol
synthetic = dl alpha-tocopheryI
Researchers seem to favor natural vitamin E over synthetics. One study shows humans strongly discriminate between natural and synthetic vitamin E.
Robert Acuff, PhD, Professor and Director, Center for Nutrition Research at East Tennessee State University reviewed more than 30 published studies on the differences between natural and synthetic forms of vitamin E.
He said, “In the case of vitamin E, the natural form is clearly the one our bodies were designed to use.”
Other researchers investigating the differences between natural and synthetic vitamin E have found that the natural form is 100% more bio-available than synthetic.
Natural food sources of Vitamin E include: wheat germ, avocado, whole grain products, egg yolk, nuts, liver and peanut butter.