Vitamin E

If you are on anti-coagulant therapy, do not take without your doctor's advice. If required to treat a medical condition, up to 800 units is safe even with anticoagulants, but you need to be sure that your doctor agrees.

What is it?

Vitamin E is an oily substance found in soybeans, nuts, and other foods. It is responsible for normal childbirth, for a healthy immune system, and for prolonging our lives by scavenging free radicals. Vitamin E is also known as tocopherol.

Since the B vitamins are required for normal metabolic function, deficiency results in distinct metabolic diseases such as beri-beri, pellagra, certain psychoses, neurologic disease, etc.  Vitamin E works mainly as an antioxidant, so the results of deficiency depend on individual differences in other anti-oxidants, on oxidant stress, and on fat absorption (required to absorb vitamin E and omega-3 acids which interact with it). In theory, vitamin E deficiency speeds aging, though proof still eludes us.

Forms of vitamin E

Natural vitamin E is a mixture of different forms called alpha, delta, gamma and so on. The alpha is the most potent, so you are used to vitamin E that is labeled d-alpha-tocopherol. Evidence now indicates that a mixture of the naturally occurring forms of vitamin E is best. If we supplement with only the alpha-tocopherol, we may crowd out the necessary delta- or gamma-tocopherols. There are supplements labeled and sold as mixed tocopherols. Most have very little delta- and gamma-tocopherol, these being very expensive. Manufacturers that go to the expense of including significant amounts of delta and gamma-tocopherol will usually specify the amounts on the label. 

Which forms does vitamin E take?

dl-tocopherol is the synthetic form of vitamin E. It may be made from petroleum or from turpentine. The tocopherol in people is always d-tocopherol.

Tocopherol acetate is vitamin E with an acetate molecule attached. Acetate is present in all animals. You are familiar with it as the acetic acid as in vinegar. Why add acetate to vitamin E? Vitamin E is a free radical scavenger. Free radicals exist whenever oxygen is in contact with organic substances. The vitamin E in the capsule will, if able, react with the oxygen in the air in the bottle. It will not be as effective once it enters your system. By attaching an acetate molecule to the vitamin E, it is prevented from reacting in the capsule. Once you ingest the capsule, the acetate is removed, used by your system for energy, and the full value of the vitamin E is available to you.

Tocopherol succinate is a form of vitamin E useful for those who would rather take a tablet than a capsule. When two molecules of acetate are combined you get a four-carbon molecule called succinate. This molecule also can combine with vitamin E to protect it from premature anti- oxidant activity. The result is not an oil but a solid.

Do I need supplemental vitamin E?

Most people with normal digestion and diet do not require supplemental vitamin E.  Supplemental d-alpha-tocopherol may even be a hazard since it interferes with absorption of delta and gamma tocopherol.

People who have digestive difficulties that interfere with absorption of fatty substances, who've had weight loss surgery, who are on total parenteral nutrition, or who have illnesses that increase oxidative stress probably require supplemental vitamin E.

Will any brand of vitamin E do?

Some years ago a prominent nutritional researcher bought ten brands of vitamin E and had each analyzed. Many contained less than the amount stated on the label. One contained no vitamin E at all. While there are numberous companies that make a quality supplement, Thorne and Carlson are two I believe to be competent and honest.