Vitamin E – The Antioxidant

I’m still studying Nutrition and if you’ve been following this blog, you know I’ve recently been posting about individual vitamins. To keep them straight I like to create a picture in my mind that helps me remember why each vitamin is so important.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and I picture it as a mini super hero or warrior. Why? Because this amazing vitamin is fighting for you! It helps defend, protect and prevent!

What is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E is not a single compound. It is actually two sets of four compounds each: the tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and the tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta). Don’t worry, the confusing stuff stops here. They are collectively known as vitamin E and that’s what we will call them.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and protects your body from all kinds of damage. It’s found in virtually every cell in your body.

Vitamin E defends your cells from free radicals, it protects your lungs against contaminants in the environment, it helps protect your eye, liver, breast and muscle tissue, and it may help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Wow, that’s a lot from one vitamin!

How Much Vitamin E Do You Need?

The RDA for adults (both men, women and pregnant women): 15 milligrams/day

The RDA for women who are breastfeeding: 19 milligrams/day

15 milligrams of vitamin E per day has been shown to decrease chronic disease risk. It doesn’t sound like much, but most Americans consume less than this amount.

Sources of Vitamin E

Vitamin E is found in many plant and animal foods:

  • Wheat germ oil (contains the highest concentration of usable vitamin E)
  • Vegetable and seed oils (such as safflower, cottonseed and sunflower seed oils)
  • Foods made from vegetable oils (such as margarine and salad dressings)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Strawberries, spinach and other leafy greens
  • Meat, poultry and fish

In the typical American diet, 20% of dietary vitamin E comes from oils, salad dressings and margarine, 15% from vegetables, 12% from meat, poultry and fish, 10% from cereal and 9% from fruit.

As you can see, vitamin E is widely available in things you eat everyday.

Storage and Food Preparation Concerns

Oxygen is vital for our survival as humans, but it’s destructive and attacks and destroys the vitamin E content in food through oxidation. Both light and heat accelerate oxidation.

Here are a few examples of what oxidation does:

  • Safflower oil, stored at room temperature for 3 months, loses 55% of vitamin E
  • Peanut oil, frying for 30 minutes, loses 32% of vitamin E
  • Almonds, roasting, loses 80% of vitamin E
  • Bread, baking, loses 5-50% vitamin E

Also, processing takes a substantial toll on vitamin E.

  • Processing wheat to white flour reduces vitamin E by 92%
  • Vegetable oil is a refined food. During the purifying and refining process, so much vitamin E is removed that the by products are used to make supplements.

Vitamin E Deficiency

Vitamin E deficiency is rare in North America because vegetable oils and other sources rich in vitamin E are so widely used. Those at risk, however, are infants born prematurely and those who can’t digest dietary fat.

Vitamin E deficiency causes a condition known as hemolysis (the premature breakdown of red blood cells) and an associated anemia.  This anemia is most common in premature infants because vitamin E transfers from mother to fetus in the last 2 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born prematurely are lacking this essential nutrient. In cases like this, supplements and special formulas are used to help correct the problem.

People who can not absorb dietary fat or who have rare fat metabolism disorders can develop a deficiency in vitamin E. In adults, the malabsorption would have to exist for 5 – 10 years for symptoms to surface and can result in neurological problems that affect the spinal cord and peripheral nerves.

Vitamin E Toxiciy

Vitamin E is relatively nontoxic.

Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, but unlike vitamins A and D, vitamin E does not accumulate in the liver. 90% of the vitamin E in your body is stored in fat tissue. The remaining 10% is found in pretty much every cell in every tissue in your body.

It is difficult to consume too much of this vitamin from food.

Taking high dose vitamin E supplements may interfere with blood clotting and therefore may increase your body’s vitamin K requirement.

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Source:

Insel,P., Ross,D., McMahon,K., Bernstein,M., Nutrition Fourth Edition. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett, 2013

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