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VITAMIN E (Tocopherols and tocotrienols)

The term vitamin E does not refer to a single molecule but to two classes of molecules with similar structures and antioxidant properties, comprising a family of eight fat-soluble compounds that include both tocopherols and tocotrienols. Tocopherols are the most abundant form of vitamin E in the body, consisting of four different forms (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol)

Tocotrienols, which are found in the body to a lesser extent, also exist in four different forms (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol). Although tocopherols and tocotrienols are available from the diet, alpha-tocopherol is the primary form of vitamin E found and maintained in the body, due to the specificity of a transport protein for alpha-tocopherol.

Serum concentrations of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) depend upon the liver, which takes up the nutrient after the various forms of vitamin E are absorbed from the small intestine.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects the cells from oxidation and neutralises unstable free radicals which can cause damage. This is done by the vitamin E giving up one of its electrons to the electron deficient free radical, making it more stable. While Vitamin E performs its antioxidant functions, it also protects the other antioxidants from being oxidised.

This antioxidant capability is effective in helping to prevent many diseases including arthritis, cancer, dementia, diabetes and strokes . It also assists in fighting heart disease and is essential for red blood cells and hormone production. It also helps with cellular respiration and protects the body from pollution, especially the lungs. Vitamin E is also useful in preventing blood clots from forming and promotes fertility and reduces and/or prevents hot flushes in menopause. An increase in stamina and endurance is also attributed to vitamin E. The body also needs vitamin E to boost its immune system so that it can fight off invading bacteria, viruses and yeasts.

It is also used topically to great effect for skin treatments by helping the skin look younger, promoting healing and cutting down the risk of scar tissue forming. When it is used on the skin it is also reported to help with bed sores, cold sores, eczema, shingles and skin ulcers.

NOTE: Nickel and vitamin C share a common antagonist; vitamin E. This inhibiting effect of vitamin E is not related to the anti-oxidative properties of vitamin C or vice versa (both are antioxidants, so in that respect they are synergistic), but they are antagonists ratio wise to one another, and to other chemical members: For instance, vitamin C increases iron uptake, which Vitamin E inhibits. Vitamin C lowers manganese and zinc, while vitamin E helps increase manganese and zinc absorption. As a result, a very high intake of vitamin C will require an equally high intake of vitamin E to maintain the same ratio.

Deficiency of vitamin E

Low levels of vitamin E can cause inflamed varicose veins, slow healing of wounds, premature aging and reduced fertility. Other symptoms may include acne, anaemia, cancers, dementia, gallstones, cell wall and muscle degeneration and disease, rosacea, shortened red blood cell life span, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) and uterine degeneration.

The balance and production of hormones throughout the body relies upon sufficient levels of vitamin E, therefore low levels may cause hormonal disorders.

Deficiency of vitamin E can also cause nerve and muscle damage that results in loss of feeling in the arms and legs, loss of body movement control, muscle weakness and vision problems. Other signs of deficiency are a weakened immune system and fatigue.

Vitamin E deficiency is very rare in healthy people. It is almost always linked to certain diseases where fat is not properly digested or absorbed. Examples include Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, liver diseases and certain rare genetic diseases such as abetalipoproteinemia and ataxia with vitamin E deficiency. Vitamin E needs some fat for the digestive system to absorb it.

Vitamin E supplements can interact or interfere with certain medicines as follows:

  • It can increase the risk of bleeding in people taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medicines.

  • In one study, vitamin E plus other antioxidants (such as vitamin C, selenium, and beta-carotene) reduced the heart-protective effects of two drugs taken in combination, a statin and vitamin B3 (niacin), to lower blood-cholesterol levels.

  • Taking antioxidant supplements while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer could alter the effectiveness of these treatments.

Overdose of vitamin E

High doses of vitamin E supplements can greatly suppress blood coagulation and clotting thus increasing risk of excessive bleeding or haemorrhage. Also synthetic vitamin E is only 50% as absorbable as natural vitamin E and does not contain any tocotrienols, making it a very poor substitute for natural food sources of vitamin E.

Highest sources of vitamin E in milligrams per 100 grams

  • Wheat germ 149.4 mg

  • Hemp seeds 55 mg

  • Hazelnut oil 47 mg

  • Almond oil 39 mg

  • Sunflower seeds 38.3 mg

  • Chilli powder 38.1 mg

  • Paprika 38 mg

  • Rice bran oil 32 mg

  • Grape seed oil 29 mg

  • Almonds 26.2 mg

  • Oregano 18.3 mg

  • Hazelnuts 17 mg

  • Flaxseed oil 17 mg

  • Peanut oil 16 mg

  • Hazelnuts 15.3 mg

  • Corn oil 15 mg

  • Olive oil 14 mg

  • Soya bean oil 12 mg

  • Pine nuts 9.3 mg

  • Cloves (ground) 9 mg

  • Peanuts 8 mg

  • Celery flakes (dried) 6 mg

  • Spirulina 5 mg

  • Dried apricots 4.3 mg

  • Bell peppers (red), eel, olives and salmon 4 mg

  • Jalapeno peppers 3.6 mg

  • Anchovies 3.3 mg

  • Broccoli, chicken, chilli peppers (sun-dried), cod, crayfish, dandelion greens, egg yolk, duck, goose, pecan nuts, spinach, tomatoes (tinned or pureed) turkey and turnip greens 3 mg

  • Avocado, beef, bilberries, blue berries, butter, chicory greens, cinnamon (ground), crab, halibut, herring (pickled), mackerel, marjoram, mustard greens, pistachio nuts, poppy seeds, sardines, sesame seeds, Swiss chard, trout, tuna, turnips and walnuts 2 mg

  • Fish roe 1.9 mg

  • Asparagus, kiwi fruit and parsnips 1.5 mg

  • Black berries 1.2 mg

  • Chlorella 1.1 mg

NOTE: The recommended daily allowance is 22 IU for adults. One IU is the biological equivalent of 0.3 μg or 0.3 micrograms.


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Life stageRecommended amount of vitamin E
Birth to 6 months4 mg (6 IU)
Infants 7–12 months  5 mg (7.5 IU)
Children 1–3 years6 mg (9 IU)
Children 4–8 years 7 mg (10.4 IU)
Children 9–13 years 11 mg (16.4 IU)
Teens 14–18 years15 mg (22.4 IU)
Adults 15 mg15 mg (22.4 IU)
Pregnant teens and women     15 mg (22.4 IU)
Breastfeeding teens and women19 mg (28.4 IU)

NOTE: Nuts, seeds and oils are high calorie foods and should be eaten in moderate amounts by people with a high body mass index.

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"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC


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