Vitamin E is part of the group of fat-soluble vitamins. This means that these vitamins dissolve in fat rather than water. (Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Vitamin K are the other fat soluble vitamins). Vitamin E is made up of a family of molecules called tocopherols and another family of molecules called tocotrienols. The tocotrienols have not been studied much so little is known about their impact on the body.
There are four types of tocopherols: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. The most important and biologically active form of vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol. The daily recommended values for vitamin E is based on alpha-tocopherol.
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vitamin E – Alpha-Tocopherol
|0-6 Months *||4 mg (6 IU)||4 mg (6 IU)|
|7-12 Months *||5 mg (7.5 IU)||5 mg (7.5 IU)|
|1-3 Years||6 mg (9 IU)||6 mg (9 IU)|
|4-8 Years||7 mg (10.4 IU)||7 mg (10.4 IU)|
|9-13 Years||11 mg (16.4 IU)||11 mg (16.4 IU)|
|14 + Years||15 mg (22.4 IU)||15 mg (22.4 IU)||15 mg (22.4 IU)||19 mg (28.4 IU)|
* 0-6 Months and 7-12 Months are Adequate Intakes (AI) and not RDA’s.
Because the recommended amounts are based on the alpha tocopherol form, it’s important that we focus on getting this form of vitamin E and not the other synthetic forms. It has been shown in some studies that the synthetic form may not be as effective as alpha tocopherol at keeping us healthy. In fact, it may actually increase the risk for prostate cancer in men when given in doses higher than the recommended daily value. The natural form has a few different names: d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate and d-alpha tocopheryl succinate. The synthetic form is labeled as all rac-alpha-tocopherol. Supplements with natural vitamin E with be labeled d-alpha while the synthetic vitamin E supplements will have the label dl-alpha.
Antioxidant or Pro-oxidant?
When taken in doses higher than the RDA it can start acting like a pro-oxidant instead of an antioxidant. It can begin to oxidize things in your cells and act the same way as a free radical. Vitamin C may also start doing the same thing in higher doses. However, if you are eating a healthy and balanced diet that contains foods high in Vitamin E, you are already getting a sufficient amount of it in your diet already and you do not need to take vitamin E supplements.
This vitamin is a strong antioxidant that helps protect our cells and DNA from free radical damage. What’s great about vitamin E is that our bodies are very good at recycling it. Vitamin E gets rid of free radicals by becoming one itself. However, it passes on the electron it took from the free radical to another antioxidant or Vitamin C, which then takes it out of the body. Read more about it here. Emerging evidence is showing that it may also help protect against Alzheimer’s disease by protecting the neurons in our brains. It also helps protect us against bad (LDL) cholesterol as well as keep our arteries and heart healthy. Vitamin E may also help protect our skin from UVB damage from the sun (Note: Please do not use Vitamin E as an alternative to sunscreen). The best sources of vitamin E are Sunflower seeds. Nuts like Peanuts, Almonds and Hazelnuts are other good sources. Dark leafy greens like Spinach, Chard and Mustard greens are also good sources of Vitamin E.
- Sen C, Rink C, Khanna S. Palm oil-derived natural vitamin E alpha-tocotrienol in brain health and disease. Journal Of The American College Of Nutrition [serial online]. June 2010;29(3 Suppl):314S-323S.
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- Lee lf\A, Cook NR, Gaziano JM, et al. Vitamin E in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The Women’s Health Study: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2005; 294:56-65.
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