Although vitamin E was first discovered in 1922, it
was only in the last decade that the public began to
be educated about the fact that vitamin E is not a
single vitamin but is actually composed of eight
members. These members belong either to a sub-family
of four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta)
or a sub-family of four tocotrienols (alpha, beta,
gamma and delta).
4 Tocopherols + 4 Tocotrienols = VITAMIN E FAMILY
alpha (8 members)
Generally, most "vitamin E" supplements available in
the market refer to only one member of the E family
and that is d-alpha tocopherol Although alpha
tocopherol is the best known, its other seven
members are also important It was only recently that
scientists found how these seven overlooked members
of the E-family have extremely important functions
in promoting heart health as well as in helping to
prevent some cancers and numerous diseases.
Vitamin E from food source
Our food contains all eight compounds of vitamin E,
but gamma tocopherol is actually the most commonly
occurring natural form of vitamin E in the diet.
Gamma tocopherol in particular also has the ability
to protect against nitrogen based free radicals,
which alpha tocopherol cannot do.
Nitrogen free radicals play an important role in
diseases associated with chronic inflammation,
including cancer, heart disease and degenerative
How vitamin E helps prevent cancer
Vitamin E being a potent fat-soluble antioxidant
protects the cell membranes and nucleus membranes
that protect the DNA and vital enzymes. Protection
of the DNA is critical for reducing the risk of
cancer. Vitamin E may also block the formation of
nitrosamines, which are carcinogens formed in the
stomach from nitrites consumed in the diet. It may
also protect against the development of cancers by
enhancing immune function, Vitamin E supplementation
significantly lowers the risk of prostate cancer
according to the report in the Journal of the
National Cancer Institute. In the study, Olli P.
Heinonen M.D.D.Sc., and his colleagues at the
University of Helsinki followed the health of 29,000
men for six years. The men taking vitamin E were
found to be prostate cancer and 41 percent likely to
die from the disease if they did develop it. These
beneficial effects were seen within two years of
starting the supplementation.
The anticancer effects of tocotrienols have garnered
a lot of attention. One of the innate protectors
against cancer is a process known as "apoptosis."
Apoptosis is an encoded suicide program designed to
protect cells from becoming cancerous. When this
process fails, cancer develops. Tocotrienols
effectively promote apoptosis with delta-tocotrienol
being twice as potent as gamma tocotrienol.
Another anticancer mechanism involves inhibiting
enzymes within cancer cells that stimulate them to
replicate. Gamma tocotrienol was shown to be three
times more potent in inhibiting growth of human
breast cancer cultured cells than chemotherapy drug
The American Cancer Society released the results of
a long term study that evaluated the effect of
regular use of vitamin C and vitamin E supplements
on bladder cancer mortality in almost 1,000,000
adults in the U.S. The study, conducted between the
years 1982 to 1998, found that subjects who
regularly consumed a vitamin E supplement for longer
than 10 years had a reduced risk of death from
How vitamin E helps protect the heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among
men and woman in most countries. Preliminary
research has led to a widely held belief that
vitamin E may help prevent or delay coronary heart
disease. Researchers have reported that oxidative
changes to LDL - cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol)
promote blockages (atherosclerosis) in coronary
arteries that may lead to heart attacks. Vitamin E
may help prevent or delay coronary heart disease by
limiting the oxidation of LDL - cholesterol.
Vitamin E may also help prevent the formation of
blood clots, which could lead to a heart attack.
Observational studies have associated lower rates of
heart disease with higher vitamin E intake. A study
of approximately 90,000 nurses suggested that the
incidence of heart disease was 30 percent to 40
percent lower among nurses with the highest intake
of vitamin E from diet and supplements. Researchers
found that the apparent benefit was mainly
associated with intake of vitamin E from dietary
supplements. A 1994 review of 5,133 Finnish men and
women aged 30-69 years also suggested that increased
dietary intake of vitamin E was associated with
decreased mortality (death) from heart disease.
Other studies on vitamin E
Studies are underway to determine whether vitamin E,
through its ability to limit production of free
radicals, might help prevent or delay the
development of those chronic diseases. Vitamin E has
also been shown to play a role in immune function,
in DNA repair, and other metabolic processes.
Other studies have linked low levels of vitamin E to
an increased risk of many different kinds of cancer.
In fact, Katalin G. Losonczy, a researcher with the
National Institute of Ageing, studied the
consumption of vitamin E among 11,798 people over
the age of 65. She found that those who took vitamin
E supplements daily were 41 percent less likely to
have died from cancer and 40 percent less likely to
have died from heart disease, than people who did
not take vitamin E.
Vitamin E Supplements
Based on all the current studies done on vitamin E,
it makes good sense to look for a supplement, which
has all eight members. These not only form an
important part of the body's antioxidant system, but
also some of the members have other functions, which
are completely unrelated to their role as an
antioxidant. In a nutshell, the advantage of taking
the whole family of vitamin E is that they work
synergistically together to provide the full
spectrum of benefits.