Vitamin E & Its Function in the Body

Overview

Vitamin E is an important nutrient with many potential benefits to the human body. Vitamin E can reduce the risks of certain diseases, improve immune health and help athletes recover from intense exercise. In addition, because of its strong antioxidant profile, vitamin E is also an important tool for anti-aging.

What Is It?

Vitamin E has two chemical components: tocopherols and tocotrienols. These fat-soluble nutrients can further be subdivided into the alpha, beta, gamma and delta forms of each. Tocopherols are what we commonly think of as vitamin E, in particular the natural d-alpha form, which is commonly taken as an antioxidant supplement. The less well-known tocotrienols may also contribute to overall health and prevent some diseases.

Function in the Body

Experts do not completely understand the role of vitamin E in the body. However, it is clear that it exhibits antioxidant properties. One very important function of vitamin E is preventing the oxidation of lipid-based cell membranes. This is very important because free radicals can alter the DNA of cells by stealing electrons from their membranes, contributing to disease and aging. Besides protecting the body from DNA damage, vitamin E also protects white blood cells and is essential to the formation of SOD (superoxide dismutase), which is a very important antioxidant for the human body.

Benefits of Supplementation

While vitamin E deficiency is uncommon, many people may not be getting enough to promote overall health and defend against certain diseases. For this reason many people take additional vitamin E in supplement form. For example, it is clear that athletes need a lot more of all vitamins, including E, because extreme exercise produces more free radicals. Vitamin E can ease aches and pains, as well as shorten the duration of muscle soreness following exercise. It also improves glucose management and insulin sensitivity, a great benefit for those with diabetes or at risk of developing the Type II diabetes. In addition, vitamin E may lower cholesterol, protect neurons, strengthen the immune system and decrease the risk of certain cancers.

Natural Sources

Natural sources of vitamin E include asparagus, avocado, eggs, milk, almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, wheat germ and olive oil. The recommended daily allowance is only 15 IU, but many people supplement with 100 to 400 IU daily in order to receive optimal antioxidant protection. The National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements says adults can safely take up to 1, 500 IU per day.

Guidelines

Studies indicate that vitamin E may act as an anticoagulant, which could increase the risk of bleeding, if taken in very large doses. The natural d-forms of the vitamin provide the most benefit; the synthetic d-forms are considered less absorbable. A mixed d-tocopherol supplement should be taken in an oil base because vitamin E needs fat to be absorbed. High gamma and tocotrienol forms are also available at some health retail stores. Always follow the suggested usage on the label and consult with your doctor if you are taking any medications.

About this Author

Andrew Bennett enjoys exploring health and fitness through his personal workouts, as well as researching the latest about the subject. As a natural body builder, Bennett enjoys the ongoing pursuit of health and wellness in all aspects of life. He writes articles, blogs, copy, and even award-winning screenplays.