What is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E comes from a group of chemicals called tocopherols. This variation, alpha-tocopherol, is the only one that has the effects of Vitamin E as we know and love it today. This fat-soluble vitamin has mainly one function, and can has recommendations set for USA and Canada.
RDA: 15 mg/day, with an Upper Limit of 1000 mg/day
Vitamin E as an Antioxidant
The vitamin’s only role in our bodies is to act as an antioxidant. An antioxidant donates electrons to free radicals – rogue electrons causing damage to our tissues – in order to stabilize them and cease their rampage. More specifically, Vitamin E stops free radicals from creating even more free radicals, halting any domino effect that may occur. This way, the vitamin protects our cells against damage, and keeps red blood cells and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) from oxidation.
Not getting enough of this nutrient isn’t a common occurrence. In fact, it’s most likely related to diseases like cystic fibrosis that inhibits the absorption of fat (and therefore fat-soluble vitamins). However, a lack of the vitamin causes red blood cells to rupture, most likely caused by the oxidation of the PUFAs in the cell membranes. Neurological effects may occur, as well, like muscle weakness and impaired vision and speech.
Just as in deficiency, toxicity is a rare concern. Still, overconsumption of the vitamin, most likely from supplementation, could inhibit the blood-clotting done by Vitamin K. If a person is taking blood thinners, their effects would be enhanced, and hemorrhaging would occur.
Where can I find Vitamin E in the diet?
As you’d expect, Vitamin E is found in foods that contain lipids. Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and wheat germ are rich in the nutrient. (Wheat germ is part of the whole grain. Processed, “white” flours and grains do not have the germ, and therefore don’t have the nutrients!) Vitamin E is just another great reason not to be afraid of fats in the diet!