Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin, is composed of a group of compounds called tocopherols. Seven forms of tocopherols exist in nature: alpha, beta, delta, epsilon, eta, gamma, and zeta. Of these, alpha tocopherol is the most potent form of Vitamin E and has the greatest nutritional and biological value. Tocopherols occur in highest concentrations in cold-pressed vegetable oils, all whole raw seeds and nuts, and soybeans. Wheatgerm oil is the source from which vitamin E was first obtained.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which means it opposes oxidation of substances in the body. Oxidation involves a compound called an oxidizer which attacks another compound, removing an electron from it. Vitamin E prevents saturated fatty acids and vitamin A from breaking down and combining with other substances that may become harmful to the body. Fat oxidization results in the formation of free radicals. Free radicals are highly destructive molecules that can cause extensive damage to the body, from cancer to blood clots to damage of DNA. The vitamin B complex and ascorbic acid are also protected against oxidation when vitamin E is present in the digestive tract. Fats and oils containing vitamin E are less susceptible to rancidity than those devoid of vitamin E. Vitamin E has ability to unite with oxygen and prevent it from being converted into toxic peroxides; this leaves the red blood cells more fully supplied with the pure oxygen that the blood carries to the heart and other organs.
Vitamin E plays an essential role in cellular respiration of all muscles, especially cardiac and skeletal. Vitamin E makes it possible for these muscles and their nerves to function with less oxygen, thereby increasing their endurance and stamina. It also causes dilation of the blood vessels, permitting a fuller flow of blood to the heart. Vitamin E is a highly effective antithrombin in the bloodstream, inhibiting coagulation of blood by preventing clots from forming. It also aids in bringing nourishment to the cells, strengthening the capillary walls, and protecting the red blood cells from destruction by poisons, such as hydrogen peroxide, in the blood.
Vitamin E prevents both the pituitary and adrenal hormones from being oxidized and promotes proper functioning of linoleic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid. Because aging in the cells is due primarily to oxidation, vitamin E is useful in retarding this process. It is also necessary for proper focusing of the eyes in middle-aged persons. A sufficient amount of vitamin E allows greater storage and reduces the requirement for vitamin A.
Vitamin E is effective in the prevention of elevated scar formation on the body surface and within the body. In ointment form it is used on burns to promote healing and lessen the formation of scars. It stimulates urine excretion, which helps heart patients whose body tissues contain an excessive amount of tissue fluid (edema). As a diuretic, vitamin E helps lower elevated blood pressure. It protects against the damaging effects of many environmental poisons in the air, water, and food. It protects the lungs and other tissues from damage by polluted air.
The vitamin prevents ozone from oxidizing lung lipids in the body. In this process, vitamin E itself is used up and needs to be replaced in order for it to continue its protection. In animal studies, vitamin E has a dramatic effect on the reproductive organs: it helps prevent miscarriages, increases male and female fertility, and helps restore male potency.
Vitamin E may possibly be involved in calcium metabolism, correcting deposition in the body of either too little or too much. Removal of abnormal calcium deposits from the walls of hardened arteries and deposition of calcium into weak bones, a disease called fragilitas osseum, has been observed.
Vitamin E, as other fat-soluble vitamins, is absorbed in the presence of bile salts and fat. From the intestines, it is absorbed into the lymph and is transported in the bloodstream as tocopherol to the liver, where high concentrations of it are stored. It is also stored in the fatty tissues, heart, muscles, testes, uterus, blood, and adrenal and pituitary glands. Vitamin E in ointment form can be absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes. Excessive amounts of vitamin E are excreted in the urine, and all effects of vitamin E disappear within three days.
There are several substances that interfere with, or even cause a depletion of, vitamin E in the body. For example, when the inorganic form of iron and vitamin E are administered together, the absorption of both substances is impaired. Dr. Wilfred Shute, in Vitamin E for Ailing and Healthy Hearts, suggests that vitamin E should be taken in one dose and all iron taken 8 to 12 hours later for proper absorption. The best time to take vitamin E is before mealtime or bedtime. Chlorine in drinking water, ferric chloride, rancid oil or fat, and inorganic iron compounds destroy vitamin E in the body. Mineral oil used as a laxative depletes vitamin E. Vegetable oils dissolve alpha tocopherol and readily release it in the body, whereas mineral oil dissolves it but does not readily release it.
Large amounts of polyunsaturated fats or oils in the diet increase the rate of oxidation of vitamin E; the more unsaturated fats or oils consumed, the more vitamin E is necessary. The female hormone estrogen is a vitamin E antagonist. Intake of this hormone makes it very difficult to estimate the amount of alpha tocopherol the individual is lacking.
Improper absorption may be partly responsible for muscular problems, such as muscular dystrophy and poor performance in athletes, and digestive problems, such as peptic ulcers and cancer of the colon. Poor absorption can impair the survival of red blood cells.
The daily intake of vitamin E recommended by the National Research Council is based upon the metabolic body size and the level of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet rather than upon weight or calorie intake. The requirements increase with gains in polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet. Air pollution also increases the need for vitamin E. The RDA for infants is 4 to 5 IU daily; for children and adolescents the range is 7 to 12 IU; for adult males, 15 IU; for adult females, 12 IU; in pregnancy and lactation, needs increase to 15 IU daily. Many nutritionists consider these daily allowances exceedingly low. Adelle Davis recommends 30 IU daily for infants and children and 100 IU for adolescents and adults. In cases of illness, doctors recommend 300 to 600 IU daily, although 2000 IU have been used therapeuticaUy with excellent results.
Vitamin E has a tendency to raise blood pressure when it is given in large doses to someone whose body is not accustomed to it; therefore initial intake should be small, and as tolerance rises, the dosage should be gradually increased. It has been suggested that men start with 100 IU and gradually increase to 600 IU when used for preventive purposes. Women should begin with 100 IU and gradually increase to 400 IU.41 The best way to determine the correct dosage is with the help of a doctor who is learned in vitamin E therapy.
Vitamin E is considered nontoxic except in two conditions: in high blood pressure patients, it elevates the pressure; starting a chronic rheumatic heart disease patient on high doses can lead to rapid deterioration or death. It is best to begin with small doses, gradually increasing the amount. When using vitamin E externally, Shute states that it is a good idea to take it orally while simultaneously applying it to the body. These methods complement each other.
Deficiency Effects and Symptoms
The first clinical sign of a vitamin E deficiency is the rupture of red blood cells, which results from theirincreased fragility. A deficiency could result in a reduction of membrane stability and a shrinkage in collagen, connective tissue. A vitamin E deficiency may result in a tendency toward muscular wasting or abnormal fat deposits in the muscles and an increased demand for oxygen. Without sufficient amounts of vitamin E in the body, the essential fatty acids are altered so that blood cells break down and hemoglobin formation is impaired. In addition, several amino acids cannot be utilized, and pituitary and adrenal glands reduce their level of functioning. Iron absorption and hemoglobin formation also are impaired. A severe deficiency can cause damage to the kidneys and liver.
Perhaps the widest incidence of vitamin E deficiency among adults in the United States is in gastrointestinal disease, where prolonged deficiency can cause faulty absorption of fat and of fat-soluble vitamins, possibly resulting in cystic fibrosis, blockage of the bile ducts, and chronic inflammation of the pancreas. Poor utilization of the vitamin or an increased vitamin E demand peculiar to the individual can cause anemia and edema in premature and malnourished infants. Serious deficiencies of vitamin E in men may lead to degeneration of tissues in the testes. No amount of vitamin E therapy can repair the permanent damage, and such men may become sterile.44 Women who are severely deficient in vitamin E cannot carry a pregnancy term successfully and often have miscarriages. Premature births frequently result from insufficient intake of vitamin E during pregnancy, leaving the infants more susceptible to anemia. Hemorrhaging can occur in newborn infants who lack vitamin E. The blood cells of vitamin E-deficient babies are prone to weakness (hemolysis).
Vitamin E deficiencies can result in nephritis. This occurs when kidney tubules plug up with dead cells so that urine is unable to pass; dropsy and progressive degeneration then occur. Vitamin E deficiency appears to make red blood cells more susceptible to damage frcm medication and from environmental stresses.
A deficiency of vitamin E can produce heart disease. Approximately 25,000 children are born with heart defects every year in the United States, where 50 per cent of all deaths result from heart-related ailments. Evidence is accumulating to indicate that a lack of sufficient vitamin E may be a contributing factor in atherosclerosis and cancer.
According to Dr. Wilfred Shute, the lack of vitamin E in the American diet is partially due to the milling process which eliminates the highly perishable wheat germ, a significant source of vitamin E. About 90 percent of the vitamin E is lost in the milling process.
Beneficial Effect on Ailments
Vitamin E works to treat and prevent heart diseases such as coronary thrombosis, a heart attack in which the vessels are blocked by blood clots and part of the heart is deprived of its blood supply. Vitamin E causes arterial blood clots to disintegrate. Angina pectoris, a chest pain resulting from an insufficient supply of blood to the heart tissues, is successfully treated with alpha tocopherol.
According to Shute, rheumatic heart disease is responsible for 90 percent of defective hearts among children. Vitamin E aids rheumatic heart disease and early stages of cardiac complications by returning abnormal capillaries to normal and reducing fluid accumulation within and between cells. This promotes normal gas interchange across the cell membranes, which seems to arrest the disease.4* Congenital heart disease results in structural defects of the heart. Vitamin E cannot alter the defective structure, but its oxygen-saving effects and its antithrombin activity are vital for patients who are not treated surgically. Many congenital heart disease patients have cyanosis, insufficient supply of oxygen in the blood, and with adequate dosage of vitamin E the cyanosis has disappeared.
Vitamin E is able to bring relief to intermittent clau-dication, a severe pain in calf muscles which results from inadequate blood supply caused by arterial spasm, "restless legs," atherosclerosis, or arteriosclerosis. Vitamin E is beneficial to persons with atherosclerosis if vitamin E therapy is used before irreparable damage has occurred. It relieves pain in the extremities, speeds up blood flow, and reduces clotting tendencies. Vitamin E can aid in the healing of burned tissue,
skin ulcers, and abrasions. It prevents or dissolves scar tissues. Vitamin E helps remove old acne scars, particularly if x-ray treatments have been given. It is needed also to help dissolve scars in the arterial walls caused by toxic substances.
Free radicals cause a process called cross-linking which can result in skin wrinkles. Adequate intake of vitamin E, a free radical scavenger, could be helpful in counteracting premature aging of the skin.4 It is useful to apply vitamin E to the skin in ointment form while taking it orally, because it affects the cell formation by replacing the cells on the outer layer of the skin. Vitamin E also helps counter the gradual decline in metabolic processes during aging. Dry, itchy skin is often part of the aging process; vitamin E ointment is able to relieve the itching.
Under normal conditions vitamin E reduces the formation of thrombin, a clotting agent; this tends to reduce the likelihood of thrombosis, the formation of a blood clot. The intake of estrogen, found in contraceptive pills, may neutralize the effect of vitamin E. Intake of estrogen causes the collection of fibrin, an insoluble protein that promotes blood clotting by forming a fibrous network, to become greater. The greater amount of fibrin increases the chances of thromboem-bolism, the blocking of blood vessels.
Vitamin E has been successful in regulating excessive or scanty flows during menstruation. When vitamin E is added to the diet, it can correct menstrual rhythm. Vitamin E is recognized as a treatment for hot flashes and headaches during menopause. It has helped relieve itching and inflammation of the vagina when applied in ointment form and simultaneously ingested.
Vitamin E has been successfully used as treatment of noncancerous breast tissue known as fibrocystic breast disease. Vitamin E decreases the breast tenderness women experience during premenstruation.
Because the vitamin is an antioxidant, it reportedly eliminates perspiration odor. Bursitis, wry-neck, gout, and arthritis have improved with vitamin E therapy. Ingestion of large amounts has improved conditions of nearsightedness and crossed eyes. Vitamin E has also been used to prevent calcification of the kidneys caused by excessive vitamin D or other toxic substances. Oxygen toxicity in preemies has reportedly been prevented by vitamin E.
Vitamin E has been used to help treat varicose veins, as an alternative to surgery. It also can relieve the pain of varicose veins by decreasing the amount of oxygen needed by the tissues involved.
Vitamin E has been successful in treating thrombosis and phlebitis, which are clots in the veins. In large doses it prevents clots from spreading, dissolves existing clots, and provides indirect circulation around obstructed veins. It should be used to prevent initial attacks of clotting after operations or childbirth.
Individuals suffering from muscular dystrophy have benefited from massive doses of vitamin E.51 Vitamin E may be able to clear up or control many forms of kidney disease, including nephritis. It also aids in restoring the functions of damaged livers.
Vitamin E helps promote body defenses against virus infections and in some cases may be utilized as a flu vaccine. High doses may build both the serum and the cellular levels of the body to high levels of immunity against flu.
Vitamin E therapy has been able to help diabetics. After administration of the vitamin, some patients found that their blood sugar levels became normal or near normal, and the amount of insulin required was reduced. Vitamin E has also been used to prevent and treat gangrene in diabetics.
Vitamins A and E may be beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol by preventing fat deposits. The vitamins help offset the high cholesterol accumulations deposited on the arterial walls.
Vitamin E is used for easing headaches because it preserves the oxygen in the blood for an extended period. This results in more efficiency as the blood is pumped through the blood vessels of the head. Vitamin E has also relieved migraine attacks. Vitamins C and E work together to keep blood vessels flexible, healthy, and less subject to painful disturbances.
Test animals given vitamin E have shown a reduced death rate and an increased life span. It is possible that the vitamin assists the body's immune system by preventing membrane oxidation, thereby slowing down the aging process.
Intravenous injections of vitamin E (200 to 400 milligrams) plus 200 to 300 milligrams taken orally have successfully prevented digitalis intoxication. Vitamin E supplementation is essential for smokers. The carbon monoxide in the smoke from cigatettes destroys the oxygen-carrying ability of hemoglobin in the blood.
Vitamin E can help reduce side effects from some painkillers such as codeine, morphine, and aminopyrine. It is possible that vitamin E also influences enzymatic actions that detoxify many drugs.