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Vitamin E is key

Published:Tuesday | May 10, 2011 | 5:00 AM
Avocado

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is a family of eight separate compounds, the tocopherols, found in nature. Tokos and phero are Greek words for 'offspring' and 'to bear', so tocopherol literally means, "to bear children". This name may have originated from early experiments that showed that rats fed a diet without vitamin E became sterile, and vitamin E was then touted to be an anti-sterility vitamin. But vitamin E is now known to be much more than that.

ANTIOXIDANT

I often refer to the ACES (vitamins A, C, E and Selenium) as the main antioxidants in our diet. Yes, vitamin E is a powerful major antioxidant and plays a vital role in protecting the body's cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are dangerous substances that arise from many normal body functions. Excess free radicals are responsible for many diseases including cancer, circulation disorders, blood clots, inflammation, degeneration, and even the ageing process itself. Antioxidant protection is critical to good health.

Because vitamin E is fat soluble, it is particularly useful in protecting the delicate cell membranes such as those found in the blood cells, nervous system, circulatory system, reproductive system and muscles. This is because these membranes are fatty structures and easily damaged by free radicals. What is more, vitamin E also helps to protect and preserve the other antioxidants vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as the B vitamins, from damage.

USES OF VITAMIN E

This antioxidant quality is useful in preventing degenerative diseases, including heart disease, strokes, arthritis, senility, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and cancer. It also assists in fighting existing heart disease and cancers, is essential for healthy red blood cells, and protects the body from pollution, especially the lungs. Vitamin E is also useful in preventing blood-clot formation, promoting fertility, reducing hot flushes in the menopause and increasing stamina and endurance.

Vitamin E may be applied topically for skin treatments — in helping the skin look younger, promoting healing and cutting down the risk of scar tissue and keloid forming. Skin application of vitamin E also helps with eczema, skin ulcers, cold sores and shingles. The concept of 'Outer Nutrition' has prompted modern high-quality skin-care products that include vitamin E and other antioxidants in their formulation.

VITAMIN E DEFICIENCY

Although an absolute deficiency of Vitamin E is uncommon, many people are not getting enough vitamin E in their diet. If you eat lots of refined carbohydrates (starches and sugars), fried and fatty foods, are taking drugs like birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, or are exposed to environmental pollution, you may need more vitamin E. Vitamin E is lost in food processing which includes milling, heating, freezing, prolonged storage, and exposure to air.

Signs that you require vitamin E may include fatigue, painful varicose veins, slow wound healing, premature ageing and low fertility. When Vitamin E is in short supply, symptoms may include acne, anemia, muscle disease, dementia, cancers, gallstones and repeated miscarriages.

TAKING VITAMIN E

There are two forms of vitamin E known as tocopherols and tocotrienols. Each form consists of four varieties (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) that work together to provide disease protection. The most common type of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, is used in most vitamin supplements, and people who eat a poor diet and only take a basic synthetic multi-vitamin may have a vitamin E imbalance that could be harmful.

Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, especially sunflower seeds, vegetable and nut oils, whole grains, green vegetables like callaloo and spinach, asparagus, avocado, beef, seafood, apples, carrots, and celery.

In order to ensure you receive the antioxidant benefits from this powerful vitamin, you need to cut refined foods and sugar from your diet and include leafy green vegetables, healthy fats, fish, nuts and seeds that provide a healthy dose of the full spectrum of vitamin E. Then supplement with a natural, not a synthetic, vitamin E, taking from 400 up to 1200 IU per day. The natural form includes the letter 'd' at the beginning of the name of the tocopherol while the synthetic form will have the letters 'dl'.

VITAMIN E BOOSTERS

As the antioxidants work best as a team, combine your vitamin E with the other antioxidants: A, C, selenium and others like the herbs green tea, schizandra and pycnogenol. This will make vitamin E work better, harder and longer. One particular herb, rosemary, contains a special group of antioxidants called rosemanols. These substances recycle vitamin E after it has been used up in destroying free radicals and are called third-generation antioxidants. Rosemary really boosts vitamin E activity.

Vitamin E is very non-toxic. Very large doses may induce some diarrhea, nausea or abdominal gas, and people on anticoagulants (blood thinner medication) should probably avoid taking more than 1200 IU per day.

You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at tonyvendryes@gmail.com, or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book, An Ounce of Prevention — Especially for Women, is now available at local bookstores or from amazon.com.