Vitamin E: The Fat Soluble Vitamin
By Heather Cole August 2001
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is primarily found in vegetable oils, nuts, and grains. There are several different forms of vitamin E, the most common of which is alpha-tocopherol, the form which is found in the human body. Vitamin E deficiencies are uncommon and are usually found in individuals who cannot absorb dietary fat properly (1). Deficiencies can cause both neurological and muscular damages due to poor nerve conduction and damage to muscle cells by free radicals (2). There is a lot of interest in the role of Vitamin E in the treatment and/or prevention of a variety of health problems including Alzheimers disease, cancer and cardiovascular disease. In all of these cases, it is the antioxidant potential of vitamin E that provides benefits (3).
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that fights dangerous free radicals in the body. Free radicals are produced in the body through many normal metabolic functions, however a build up can degrade and damage cells, eventually contributing toward the development of cardiovascular disease and various cancers. Vitamin E supplementation and treatment decreases the severity of some of these diseases by protecting the biological membranes of muscle cells, nerve cells, and red blood cells. Because oxidative damage from free radicals is involved in the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even diabetes, theoretically, treatment with a powerful antioxidant like vitamin E should be beneficial (4).
Research into Alzheimers disease has shown that oxidative damage may be one of the primary contributors to both pathological and physiological symptoms. Treatment with vitamin E has been shown to help slow down the progression of the disease in some cases (5). Vitamin E seems to have a number of valuable benefits in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. It appears to slow down the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol and prevent the formation of blood clots that could lead to heart attacks (6, 7).
Vitamin E is considered the least toxic of the fat-soluble vitamins. Studies have shown that there are no ill effects of short term or long term supplementation. However, an upper intake limit has been set since Vitamin E can act as an anticoagulant, which interferes with blood clotting in some individuals. The Recommended Daily Allowance of Vitamin E for both men and women is 15mg/day of alpha-tocopherol. Individuals who may require a Vitamin E supplement include those who have trouble absorbing fat, as well as those who have been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, or individuals who have had part of their stomach removed (8).
Clearly, Vitamin E has a lot of potential to provide beneficial health effects. Detailed research into treatment and prevention of many diseases with Vitamin E supplementation is both extensive and ongoing, with results helping to explain how Vitamin E impacts many disease states.