- Vitamin E provides oil-soluble antioxidant capacity
- It can protect your cell membranes and break chain reactions
- Takes care of your lipids and lipoproteins
- Gives some protection from the sun (because UV damages through oxidative stress)
- Defends you from ozone, a pollutant
What vitamin E can’t do:
- Can’t provide antioxidant power in the water phase, like the cytosol.
- It can be your enemy in malaria because it will protect the parasite from oxygen
- Can’t prevent sunburn (because nothing can prevent sunburn completely)
What are the symptoms of Vitamin E insufficiency? They are many and nasty but infrequent unless there is a problem of absorption. The need for vitamin E was detected when scientists found that, unless it was present in the diet, pregnancy (in laboratory rats) could not be completed. Indeed, the name “tocopherol” derives from the Greek words for childbirth (tos), and to bring forth (phero). Symptoms include neuromuscular abnormalities and anemia. Vitamin E may also act as a cellular messenger.
Vitamin E is not a unique substance; any chemical that reverse symptoms of vitamin E insufficiency is a vitamin E (just like you can have more than a chemical being a vitamin C). All vitamins E have a chromane ring, with a hydroxyl group that can donate a hydrogen atom to reduce free radicals and a hydrophobic side chain which allows for penetration into biological membranes. α-tocopherol is the preferred form of Vitamin E for absorption and accumulation in humans.
The natural form of vitamin E, a vital lipidic antioxidant.
Vitamin E serves as a scavenger for free radicals that are destructive to the cell membrane, whose integrity is paramount to cell metabolism and life. Although alpha-D-tocopherol is the most widespread vitamin E, other tocols are also vitamin E, in the sense that they have vitamin E activity. The only difference between tocotrienols and tocopherol is that tocotrienols have three double bonds in their side chain and have a higher antioxidant activity. We use alpha-D-tocopherol in conjunction with other lipophilic antioxidants (see our antioxidant booster), they work better together.
Note: Synthetic forms of this chemical can be allergenic. Why? Because the body will not recognize the “wrong” stereoisomer.
Tocotrienols (alpha, gamma and delta) are very similar to tocopherol, but they have three double bonds in their isoprenoid side chain. The extra double bonds in the chemical structure of tocotrienols make them more powerful antioxidants and better UV-protectants than tocopherol. They also give the molecule a better insertion into the lipid bilayer that is the core of every single biological membrane. The antioxidant activity of tocotrienols is likely to be the underlying mechanism of their tumor suppressing activity.
The ozone present in polluted air decreases Vitamin E content in the stratum corneum of the skin, accelerating oxidation and destruction of membrane lipids, which in turn causes skin problems. This is why it is important to apply alpha-D-tocopherol topically to replenish the Vitamin E lost by the action of ozone on the skin. You will find tocopherol and tocotrienols (plus much more) in our Antioxidant Booster.
Brigelius-Flohe, R., & Traber, M. G. (1999). Vitamin E: function and metabolism. The FASEB Journal, 13(10), 1145–1155. doi:10.1096/fasebj.13.10.1145