The part of the vitamin E considered most active is D alpha tocopherol, (sometimes spelt tocopheryl), and since Vitamin E can be quite expensive, here is a way to tell what you are buying – bear in mind that synthetic Vitamin E can have as little as half the activity in the body!
It is legal for a supplement manufacturer to label their product “natural Vitamin E”, and have as little as 10% of the natural and 90% synthetic. Make sure, therefore, that the label reads “contains only 100% natural vitamin E as d-alpha tocopherol”, or wording very similar to that.
Dl -Tocopheryl (or -ol) is the synthetic form, and a Nov. 98 review of more than 30 published studies determined that natural Vitamin E is superior to synthetic. Dr. Acuff, PhD, who led the study, reported ” not only is there a chemical difference in the structure of the molecules, but research shows a significant difference in how people assimilate and retain natural and synthetic E” (Vitamin Retailer Jan 99 p.20)
This debate has, to my mind, been put to rest now in 2000 with a report released by the National Academy of Sciences, which recognizes that natural vitamin E is twice as potent as synthetic.
Synthetic E, which is almost always manufactured from a petrochemical base, contains some molecules which the body does not recognize as vitamin E – I have to wonder what it DOES recognize them as, and what their ultimate fate is!
What is an anti-oxidant? If we think of stress and aging as causing our bodies to rust, then anti-oxidants are the substances that protect us against this process. Many scientists believe that rust-causing oxidative free radicals, and the damage they cause, contribute to the chronic diseases of aging, and to the eventual death of the cells, the basic units of our body.
Two of the basic functions of Vitamin E are to improve oxygen transport, and protect cells from damage from rancid fats. You will sometimes see it used, in fact , as an additive to other oils to keep them from going rancid. These very important functions account for the fact that vitamin E deficiencies are implicated in a number of health conditions, from the biggies like cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy and rheumatoid arthritis, to more minor problems like leg cramps, and fibrocystic breast disease .
The major food sources of vitamin E do not figure very high on the list of most American’s daily foods: they are cold-pressed vegetable oils, particularly wheat germ oil and soy oil, raw or sprouted seeds, nuts and grains (especially wheat), fresh wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, eggs and legumes. However, even large amounts of these foods provide minimal amounts of vitamin E, in the 15 to 20 i.u. range, and this can be put in perspective when you realize that the most conservative recent study to show a heart protective effect from Vitamin E used 100 i.u per day, and that some experts are now mentioning daily doses of 400 to 1200 i.u., depending on the severity of the problem being addressed.
Bear in mind that recent studies show pretty conclusively that Vitamin E taken on an empty stomach is not well absorbed: it is best taken with starchy foods.
For example, a University of Texas Med. Center study looked at reducing the risk of premature hardening of the arteries in diabetics: this was an eight week randomized study using 28 patients and a daily dose of 1200 i.u. At the end of this study, those who had received the E had significant reductions of oxidized LDL (the bad cholesterol) which the scientists consider to play a part in the development of atherosclerosis. They concluded that the healthy heart benefits of Vitamin E can be extended to patients with diabetes.
The CHAOS (Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study) in England set out to test whether patients who already suffered from heart disease would benefit from E supplementation. They followed 2002 high risk patients for 18 months, during which time they all took their regular medication, but half the group took either 400 or 800 i.u of E, the other half a placebo. At the end of the study, those patients who had received the vitamin E had only one fourth the number of non-fatal heart attacks of the placebo group, and in fact the researchers considered them at no greater risk from heart disease than people who had never had a history of heart problems!
A recent study seems to suggest the Vitamin E has no benefit for heart problems; it is getting Man Bites Dog status: it is news only because it goes against the findings of every other study done. I shall be watching with interest to see what transpires as experts analyze this study!
The latest news about Vitamin E, is, of course, the study that purports to show that people using Vitamin E have a higher risk of mortality. As usual, the media in their rush to sensationalize rather than report, failed to check with other authorities to see how valid the study might be.
The Linus Pauling comments on the study. (http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminE/index.html#mortality)
In a November 11th posting from the Council for Responsible Nutrition: “— A researcher disputes a study about the possible heart risks posed by vitamin E, one of the most popular antioxidant vitamins. Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg said Thursday, the day after the release of a Johns Hopkins vitamin E study, that the Hopkins research looked at people already at high risk of death and that can’t be used to determine what’s good for healthy people. The Hopkins study found that people taking high doses of vitamin E actually had an overall death rate up to 6 percent higher than those not taking the vitamin.
“These investigators selected 19 specific studies to analyze. In doing so, they also selected not to employ a vast number of studies that show no harm from vitamin E and a great deal of benefit,” said Blumberg, who is the associate director of Tufts University’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. (http://www.hnrc.tufts.edu/)
Combined with some other basic nutrients such as B1, B2, Selenium etc, Vitamin E has the strange property of lowering C Reactive Protein (a marker of inflammti0on and accepted indicator of future heart problems) in women, but not in men. The German study (Eur J Clin Nutr, 2007 Feb 21)stated “After adjusting for confounders, vitamin E intake was associated with a 43% reduced risk for elevated CRP levels (> 3.0 mg/l) in women.”
Vitamin E is actually made up of 8 tocopherols, named after the first 8 letters of the Greek alphabet and there are those who prefer to use a Vitamin E which has all of them present, usually labeled “mixed tocopherols”. Much research is now being focused on new cousins of Vitamin E called tocotrienols, of which 4 have been isolated, called alpha, beta, gamma & delta -also after letters of the Greek alphabet. The most common sources of tocopherols are corn, soy and olive oils, and the tocotrienols are found predominantly in rice, barley and palm oils. Incidentally, the “tri” is pronounced as in tricycle.
Much of the research on tocotrienols has focused on their antioxidant abilities in their capacity as cholesterol lowerers. In one double blind cross-over study, serum concentrations of cholesterol decreased by an astonishing 31% in some of the study subjects in the short period of four weeks. Many of the major medications used to control cholesterol work by suppressing the liver’s ability to manufacture the substance, and therefore some of their most serious side-effects are connected with damage to the liver. It appears that the pathway by which tocotrienols control cholesterol has to do with suppressing an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase, and therefore they also suppress the liver’s cholesterol manufacturing rate, but fortunately without any of the accompanying side effects. In line with its ability to minimize a risk factor for heart disease, there is also some work that shows tocotrienols decrease the possibility of stroke by having an effect on thromboxane levels in the blood: a lowering in humans of from 20 to 26% was demonstrated, and also a decrease in platelet aggregation. Tocotrienols are very successful at moderating existing high levels of cholesterol, according to some practitioners who use it to rid the body of circulating high levels, then add Red Yeast extracts to ensure continued low levels.
Other studies have suggested a protective effect against atherosclerosis by virtue of tocotrienols’ antioxidant properties: damage from free radicals in the walls of the arteries is the end stage of the disease. A study at the Kenneth L. Jordan Heart Fund in 1993 showed that tocotrienols significantly decreased plasma cholesterol, LDLs and VLDLs – all the baddies, in fact.
The November 1999 issue of the Clin. Exp. Hypertension published the results of an animal study that found a 3 month period of supplementing with tocotrienols effective not only in reducing lipid peroxides in the plasma and blood vessels, but also in reducing blood pressure.
One reason they may be so effective is that tocotrienols have the capability of penetrating lipid membranes, which means they can operate effectively in organs with fatty layers, like the brain and the liver. In fact, some research being done on the role of tocotrienols in liver and breast cancer suggests a highly protective role for it, even to the extent of limiting the damage where a chemical agent was introduced in test animals to bring about a cancer. Part of a molecule’s antioxidant function is to prevent damage to DNA, and protect against cellular damage.
Some anti-tumor effect has been shown in tocotrienols, they appear to slow the growth of breast cancer (Vit. Ret Mar 99 32-33) in laboratory and animal tests, an effect attributed to their ability to regulate cell growth. Another study showed possible benefits for the treatment of liver cancer. Research done in Austin, Texas (Nutrition & Cancer 1999;33:26-32) showed that tocotrienols induce apoptosis, a fancy word for programmed cell death, and an important factor in limiting the deadly explosive growth of cancer cells.
Both tocopherols and tocotrienols have important roles to play in protecting our health, and those of us who are taking one might also be considering the benefits of adding the other: it is obvious they both play a significant part in disease prevention.
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