Vitamin E is a collective term for a group of related compounds that include four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. The specific chemicals in each of these two categories are identified with a prefix, which may be alpha, beta, gamma or delta. The D stereoisomer of alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active form of vitamin E in humans, although its L stereoisomer is biologically inactive. The term “vitamin E” often refers specifically to D-alpha-tocopherol in common usage.
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient and has many specific biochemical functions in the body, including cell signaling, enzyme reactions, gene expression and various neurological functions. Vitamin E also has significant antioxidant activity, especially with respect to the glutathione peroxidase pathway. This action removes the free radicals that result from lipid peroxidation reactions, which primarily include oxidized α-tocopheroxyl radicals.
Vitamin E is found in many dietary sources, especially vegetable oils. The best sources of vitamin E include safflower oil, sunflower oil and wheat germ oil. Vitamin E is often provided in health supplements as D-alpha-tocopherol succinate. This form of vitamin E is produced by steam distillation of vegetable oil to produce concentrated D-alpha-tocopherol. Succinylation of this product yields D-alpha-tocopherol succinate.
Vitamin E’s antioxidant activity is one of its greatest benefits. It may also support cognitive functions, menstruation and the nervous system.
Vitamin E may help to support cognitive functions, especially memory recall. The benefit is especially helpful for older people.
Vitamin E is fat-soluble, allowing it to be incorporated into cell membranes. This property may allow vitamin E to support cells from many form of oxidative stress.
Oral supplements of vitamin E may help to support normal physical movement.
Vitamin E may help to manage the discomfort of menstrual periods. This use typically involves taking vitamin E from two days before the onset of menstruation to three days after its onset.
The most significant signs that you may need vitamin E generally involve the nervous system, especially movement difficulties. Additional signs of a vitamin E deficiency include muscle weakness, loss of reflexes, anemia and a compromised immune system. A vitamin E deficiency is usually not the result of poor nutrition due to its abundance in dietary sources. The most common causes of a vitamin E deficiency include premature birth, genetic disorders involving fat metabolism and conditions that inhibit the absorption of fat from the digestive tract.
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