Date Published: 21 June 2007

Notes about Vitamin E

Vitamin E300 V175

Following the popularity of the IvyRose article about glucosamine (19 April 2007), we are pleased to include similar information about Vitamin E.

What is Vitamin E ?

Chemically, Vitamin E is an organic molecular compound whose formula is C29H50O2.

It has a molecular mass of 430.69 g/mol. Vitamin E is also known by other names, including Tocopherol and, more technically: (2R)-2,5,7,8-Tetramethyl-2-[(4R,8R)-4,8,12 -trimethyltridecyl]-3,4-dihydro-2H-chromen-6-ol.
(While it is not necessary to understand these formulae, they may be of interest to students of 'A'-Level Chemistry and undergraduates in Food Science and BioChemistry.)

Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin (that is, it is stored in body fat rather than in the water content of the body). Vitamin E is not soluble in water. It is stable to heat, but is oxidised by air.

Vitamin E occurs in nature as tocopherols and tocotrienols. There are 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols (called alpha, beta, gamma and delta). Therefore Vitamin E exists in eight different forms (that is, as eight different "isomers", or arrangements of the atoms) altogether.

Each form has its own biological activity. The most active form of vitamin E in humans is Alpha-tocopherol (a-tocopherol).

Vitamin E is a powerful biological antioxidant. (Antioxidants are molecules that reduce the rate of oxidation of other chemicals, or prevent the oxidation of the other chemicals altogether. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can involve the production of free radicals - which can form dangerous chain reactions. Antioxidants can terminate these chain reactions by removing radical intermediates and inhibiting other oxidation reactions by being oxidized themselves. The bio-chemistry may sound complicated but the important conclusion is that antioxidants perform an important function within the body!)

Antioxidants such as vitamin E protect cells against the effects of free radicals, which are potentially damaging by-products of energy metabolism. Free radicals can damage cells and it has even been suggested that they may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Studies are in progress to determine whether vitamin E, through its ability to limit production of free radicals, might help to prevent or delay the development of those chronic diseases. Vitamin E is also believed to help with immune function, in DNA repair, and with other metabolic processes.

Where does Vitamin E come from ?

Vitamin E occurs naturally in cereals, vegetable oils, raw seeds, nuts and soyabeans. Fortified breakfast cereals are also a key source of vitamin E in the USA.
When used as a food additive, Vitamin E / Tocopherol is labeled with the following E numbers, the specific number used depending on which form (or "isomer") of vitamin E has been used:

  • E307 in the case of alpha-tocopherol,
  • E308 in the case of gamma-tocopherol, and
  • E309 in the case of delta-tocopherol.

Vitamin E can be lost from foods during cooking, processing, or storage. Using whole-grain flours, storing foods such as grains in airtight containers, and avoiding exposing them to light, helps to retain the vitamin E within foods in good condition.

What does Vitamin E do for the body ?

As explained above, Vitamin E is a powerful biological antioxidant.

In more general terms, it is believed to:

  • Help maintain the health of blood vessels, especially arterial muscle tone.
  • Help maintain skin elasticity.
  • Help reduce tissue injury from ischaemia (ie lack of oxygen).
  • Support the body's immune system - due to its powerful antioxidant properties.
  • Help promote a healthy reproductive system, and
  • Assist in the assimilation of vitamin A

Why might you choose to take extra Vitamin E ?

Additional vitamin E may be appropriate to support any of the functions listed above. Generally, it is taken:

  • to promote healing,
  • to help to support a busy and hectic lifestyle,
  • to help to support the immune system,
  • to help to support vascular health (i.e. that of the blood system).

(Note: According to the UK Food Standards Agency publication "Manual of Nutrition",1995: "deficiency [of vitamin E] is never seen except in two groups of people." The two groups identified are premature infants and people who are unable to absorb or utilize vitamin E. The same publication also advises that "Very high intakes [of vitamin E] do not appear to be toxic".)

For which medical conditions might Vitamin E be relevant ?

Research about the effect of vitamin E has been carried out concerning at least the conditions mentioned below.

  • Scarring
  • During pregnancy
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Cataracts
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Parkinson's disease

It is best to read as much as possible about the actual studies/reports before drawing conclusions from these or other studies. This is because many variables may be involved. Scientists usually consider the effect of the substance being studied relative to the "effect" of a placebo (such as a sugar pill, for example). The difference in outcome between these two possibilities may vary according to other factors, e.g. the dosage used, and the age, sex, and other medical conditions of people participating in the study. Further information is available online, and also from all good university libraries - where it is possible to read reports of the studies published in medical and other journals.

Where can I buy Vitamin E ?

Vitamin E is generally available from healthfood shops in the form of tablets that may be taken as food/dietary supplements. Food/dietary supplements are not available for sale from but we can tell you about other online shops that do sell these - see for example the link to the Natures Own website at the top of this page [on large screens only].

Are there any safety concerns about the use of Vitamin E ?

It is always a good idea to be concerned about the safety, possible side-effects, and dosage of food supplements, any form of medicine or treatment, and even about appropriate/safe quantities of foods and beverages.

In the case of Vitamin E, some sources offer warnings while others do not. In late 2004 there was an American study that gave rise to concern about very high does of vitamin E, though the study's authors acknowledged that due to most participants in the trial being aged 60 years or above and having conditions such as heart disease, their findings might not apply to young healthy adults. More recently the Canadian Government's website "Health Canada" cautions against excessive dosage of vitamin E, also mentioning recent studies that may be cause for concern but are not in themselves firm proof that excessive quantities of vitamin E have harmed patients. Their conclusion is that more research is needed.

Briefly, the concerns expressed in recent years seem to relate to very high doses of vitamin E (400 IU/day or greater). It is thought that this may be associated with increased risk of bleeding - particularly in patients taking blood-thinning agents such as warfarin, heparin, or aspirin; or in patients with vitamin K deficiency. If you are concerned about the type or quantities of supplements you are taking it is adviseable to consult an appropriately qualified health professional.

** Note: This article is for general interest/information. It is not medical advice. **

Source: IvyRose Article.

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