Vitamin E is the name for a collection of fat-soluble nutrients that are found naturally in certain foods, added to some foods, or taken as a dietary supplement. The vitamin is known for having antioxidant properties that play an important role throughout the body, including helping to support the immune system and promoting cardiovascular and cognitive health.
Initially discovered in the early 20th century as a “fertility factor”, vitamin E now refers to eight different compounds, four tocopherols and four tocotrienols:
- Alpha tocotrienol
While alpha-tocopherol was the first compound to be recognized as vitamin E in 1924, and the subject of most of the vitamin E research in the 20th century, researchers are now paying more attention to the potential health benefits of the tocotrienols.
Tocotrienols differ from tocopherols by having an unsaturated side tail that results in significantly different biological activities. Tocotrienol is also called the “unsaturated form of vitamin E.”
You can draw a parallel to fats, where we eat both saturated and unsaturated fat, and they have both similar and unique biological activities.
Alpha-tocopherol assists the immune system to safeguard health. The vitamin prevents the activity of an enzyme known as protein kinase C. The enzyme participates in cell reproduction and the differentiation of monocytes, platelets, and smooth muscle cells.
However, with vitamin E present in the endothelial cells that line blood vessels, the vessels become more resistant to particles adhering to the surface and causing vessel narrowing. The nutrients also inhibit the metabolism of arachidonic acid, which encourages prostacyclin release in blood vessels responsible for dilation while preventing platelet clots.
Although less is known about tocotrienols, there’s some evidence that they may possess superior biological properties, when compared to alpha-tocopherol.
Research indicates tocotrienols may help support a healthy inflammatory response, reduce oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction and promote healthy cholesterol synthesis. In addition, tocotrienols appear to offer significant neuroprotective properties.
As mentioned, vitamin E is an antioxidant and helps to protect the body against free radicals. Free radicals have unpaired electrons. The molecules are known to cause cell damage and death. Free radicals play a role in the development of age-related conditions.
The fat-soluble vitamin E stops free radicals by interfering with the production of reactive oxygen species or ROS. The substances are formed when the body metabolizes fat, which results in oxidation or free radicals. Free radicals may also enter the body via smoking, environmental pollution and UV ray sun exposure. However, regular intake of vitamin E helps protect the body.
Consuming nutrients through dietary means enables the body to better absorb, metabolize, and use vitamin E. Excellent food sources include:
- Wheat germ oil- one tablespoon provides 20 milligrams or 135 percent of the recommended daily value.
- Sunflower seeds – a one ounce serving yields 7.4 milligrams or 46 percent of the DV
- Almonds – one ounce provides 6.8 milligrams or 45 percent of the DV
- Hazelnut oil – one tablespoon offers 6.4 milligrams or 43 percent of the DV
- Sunflower oil – one tablespoon provides 5.6 milligrams or 37 percent of the DV
- Safflower oil – one tablespoon provides 4.6 or 31 percent of the DV
Tocotrienols are harder to get by diet alone. One of the best sources of tocotrienols is sustainable red palm oil.