Vitamin E Facts

Vitamin E Facts

Vitamin E is one of four fat-soluble vitamins, all of which are found naturally in foods and is essential for normal body functioning. (The other three are vitamins A, D, and K.) Vitamin E serves first and foremost as a powerful antioxidant, helping to prevent damage to the cells caused by the oxidation of free radicals. Other important functions of vitamin E are facilitating effective communication between cells and are protecting the skin from ultraviolet light.
 
Although the name vitamin E makes it sound like a single vitamin, it actually consists of a group of eight related fat-soluble vitamins. Four of the components of the vitamin E family are tocopherols, which include alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, and delta-tocopherol, the most biologically active of which is alpha-tocopherol. The discovery in 1922 that rats lost the ability to reproduce when they were fed a vitamin E deficient diet of rancid lard led to the recognition of vitamin E as an essential nutrient. Subsequently, vitamin E was extracted from purified wheat germ oil. It was named vitamin E since it was the next vitamin to be discovered after vitamin D.
 
The word tocopherol used to describe the key components of vitamin E comes from a combination of the Greek word “tokos,” meaning childbirth and “phero, meaning to bear, thereby taking into account the important relationship between vitamin E and fertility. However, it is now known that enabling reproduction is only one of many important functions of vitamin E.
 
The other four components of the vitamin E family are tocotrienols, which include alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienols. Each of the eight components of vitamin E is believed to be associated with unique but related functions.
 
More information is needed about the individual contributions of these different components of vitamin E. However, one major advantage of getting the needed supply of vitamin E in the diet rather than through supplements is that the food sources of vitamin E contain the entire spectrum of the vitamin E family. Most supplements, on the other hand, only contain alpha-tocopherol and only in a synthetic form.