An edited version of this article written by Lela was published in issue 47 of The South African Journal of Natural Medicine, available in stores nationwide and on: www.naturalmedicine.co.za
Benefits of Vitamin E.
Every few years scientists and researchers around the world proclaim a new miracle product. Dis- eases from dry skin to diabetes are prevented or eased and all by a natural substance, with little or no side – effects. Sound too good to be true? Maybe, but in the case of Vitamin E, maybe not.
Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, was first discovered in 1922 and was initially known as the ‘antisterility’ vitamin. Since then it has become widely accepted as an essential vitamin and is used in the treatment and /or prevention of many common ailments.
Vitamin E occurs in nature in eight structurally related forms, 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols, all of which are potent membrane-soluble antioxidants.
In its role as an antioxidant Vitamin E helps to reduce oxidation of lipid membranes and the unsaturated fatty acids as well as preventing the breakdown of other important nutrients by oxygen.
Oxidation is a chemical reaction which involves the addition of oxygen, the removal of hydrogen or the removal of an electron from a substance. The process of oxidation causes the formation of free-radicals, highly unstable molecules which can contribute to tissue and cellular irritation and damage, which can lead to chronic inflammation. A variety of chemical reactions in the body are responsible for the formation of excess free-radicals which is the basis of dis-eases such as heart disease, hypertension and arthritis.Vitamin E has been shown to be effective in protecting the tissues from oxidation and free-radicals and as such, playing an important role in preventing these diseases.
As an antioxidant, Vitamin E also helps to protect the tissues and stabilise the cell membranes of the skin, liver, eyes and breast, as well as protecting the lungs from oxidative damage from environmental substances. The key function of Vitamin E as an antioxidant is to stabilize and modify blood fats so that the heart, blood vessels and in actual fact the entire body, are more protected from injury induced by free-radicals. Another example of this vitamins antioxidant power is in the treatment of leg cramps, studies have suggested that taking 400 IUs daily can be beneficial in treating this condition.
Humans and animals do not synthesize their own Vitamin E so they need to get tocopherols from plants which are the only species capable of synthesizing Vitamin E.
Vitamin E has been shown to reduce platelet aggregation and platelet adhesiveness to collagen, even more than aspirin.This means that it helps to allow good blood flow and so can decrease the risk of artherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, particularly in people who are already at risk. This amazing vitamin helps heart and muscle cell respiration by improving their functioning without oxygen and as a result may help with endurance and stamina and so also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The potential benefits of Vitamin E in preventing cardiovascular disease may partially stem from its ability to inhibit smooth muscle cell profileration. 1 In addition Vitamin E has also been used to neutralize free radicals generated during surgery, in particular cardiopulmonary bypass surgery and could protect the body against some of the toxicity of gases used in anesthesia.
Anti – Aging.
Telltale signs of aging such as skin changes and tissue degeneration can be caused by free radical damage to cells which are unprotected by antioxidant nutrients such as Vitamin E. Applied topically it has also been used to reduce scarring, help prevent dry skin and stretch marks and assist in the repair of skin ulcers and burns. As such Vitamin E is used in many anti-aging and beauty products available on the market today.
Women should find Vitamin E particularly helpful as it has been found that the Vitamin E in starflower and evening primrose oil can help to reduce the hot flushes often experienced during menopause. A study in 1984 led by Dr Wald at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, United Kingdom also found that women with the lowest Vitamin E levels have the highest risk of breast cancer. 2
Another study measured the blood levels of Vitamin E and selenium and it found that those women within the top third of those with high levels of these nutrients, had a 91% decreased risk of cancer.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study reported in The Lancet, involving 160 pregnant women at the risk of toxaemia showed that Vitamin E may be of benefit during pregnancy also. In the study some of the women were given an antioxidant supplement of 1 gram Vitamin C and 400 IUs Vitamin E daily, from weeks 16-22 until the end of pregnancy and the rest were given a placebo. The group taking the antioxidants had a 76 percent lower incidence of preeclampsia than the group taking the placebo. 3
Vitamin E is one of five nutrients(these are: Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin B6 ) needed for the body to manufacture prostaglandins, which among other functions, help to regulate calcium movement in the body, control cell growth, control hormone regulation and sensitize spinal neurons to pain. Vitamin E helps to reduce PMS symptoms because of its regulatory role in prostaglandin production. In particular prostaglandins help to reduce cramps and breast tenderness.
Essential Fatty Acids.
Vitamin E helps to ensure maximum absorption of essential fatty acids (EFAs), also know collectively as Vitamin F. EFAs are responsible for, among many other things, normal growth, behaviour, maintenance of cell membranes, a working immune system and a balance in hormone levels. In natural nutrition, when a person is not capable or ready to take EFAs orally then Vitamin E is applied topically in order to maximise EFAs absorption from dietary sources until the body is able to handle taking the oils by mouth. This is usually done after a bath or shower as an oil in the form of evening primrose oil and is applied to the inner thighs and the inner parts of the upper arms.
Vitamin E and Diabetes.
Treatment with Vitamin E appears to be effective in normalizing retinal blood-flow abnormalities and improving kidney function in insulin dependant (type 1) diabetes. Many diabetics have decreased blood flow at the retina of the eye and can suffer from diabetic retinopathy, a degenerative eye condition which can cause vision loss. In a clinical trial patients receiving high doses of Vitamin E for 4 months experienced improved kidney function and a near normal rate of retinal blood flow. 4
What else is it good for?
In his book, ‘Staying Healthy with Nutrition’, Elson M Haas, MD, suggests the following as possible other uses of Vitamin E taken orally: peptic ulcers, anemia, periodontal disease, shingles, autoimmune diseases and dermatitis. He also suggests that Vitamin E protects against the toxic effects of smoke, alcohol and ozone and when applied topically can be used for lupus rash, herpes infections and skin ulcers among other afflictions.
There is no deficiency disease for Vitamin E as opposed to Vitamin C or many of the B vitamins, thus a deficiency of this vitamin is often very difficult to diagnose. Biochemically, low levels of Vitamin E can be measured in the blood and have been seen in conditions such as acne, anemia, infections and certain dementias such as Alzheimers disease. If you suspect you have a severe Vitamin E deficiency, consult your GP and a recognised nutritionist who will be able to work out a supplement programme tailored to your personal needs.
If taking a Vitamin E supplement the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) in South Africa has been established as the following:
Children 4-6 years of age: 9 IUs
7-10 years of age: 10 IUs
Males from 15 years of age: 15 IUs
Females from 15 years of age 12 IUs
Pregnancy: 15 IUs
Lactation: 18 IUs
As always, consult with your GP, dietician or nutritionist before embarking on any supplement programme.
Vitamin E can be found in nature in a variety of foods. Among these are: wheat germ oil, olive oil (cold-pressed, extra virgin), safflower oil, corn oil, soybeans, nut oils, spinach, asparugus, kale, celery, tomatoes, egg yolk, butter, milk fat and liver. The oil component of all nuts, seeds and grains contain tocopherol but processing can often destroy this valuable vitamin so be sure to use cold-pressed oils and raw, unroasted nuts and seeds if you are trying to increase your dietary intake of this vitamin.
Nature provides us with many nutrients which we need to function with optimal health and vitality, of these, Vitamin E is a shining example of just how perfectly we are provided for. Ensuring that you have an optimal intake of this and other vitamins is easy if you focus on natural and unprocessed foods and always remember to read your labels and ask questions if you are not sure of how a food is manufactured or stored. Be adventurous in your food choices and explore all the riches that natures bounty has to offer because personally, I suspect, in the next few years, we will discover even more benefits that have been ‘hidden’ in these natural powerhouses all along.
1. Jiang Quing, Christen Stephan, Shigenaga Mark K, Ames Bruce N; ‘ y-Tocopherol, the major form of Vitamin E in the US diet, deserves more attention.’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 74, no.6, 714-722, December 2001.
2. Wald N et al. ‘Plasma retinol, betacarotene and Vitamin E levels in relation to future risk of breast cancer’, British Journal of Cancer, 1984, 49: 321-324.
3. Chappel L C et al, Lancet 354, 1999: 810-816.
4. Diabetes Care 1999; 22: 1245-1251.
Haas, Elson MD, ‘Staying Healthy with Nutrition’, Celestial Arts Publishing, Berkeley, California, 1992, ISBN: 0890874816.
Erasmus, Udo, ‘Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill’, Alive Books, Burnaby, Canada, 1986, ISBN: 0920470386.