Supplements in the Spotlight: Vitamin E
“Free radicals” may sound like some fun slang from the 60s, but these charged particles and their impact on the human body can actually be quite destructive. What are they?
They’re unstable and highly reactive atoms, molecules, and ions that our bodies create when exposed to toxins (e.g., cigarette smoke, UV rays) and as a by-product of metabolism. Free radicals are unstable, because they’re missing electrons. As they attempt to steal electrons from their surroundings to achieve balance, they often cause damage to other molecules within the body.
Anything going haywire in the human body can’t be a good thing...
Scientists have connected free radical damage to several chronic health conditions, including Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, and degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. But there’s good news: they’ve also identified several vitamins and chemical compounds with antioxidant properties, capable of donating electrons to stabilize free radicals without becoming free radicals themselves.
Enter: Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an important, fat-soluble antioxidant. It helps protect cells, proteins, and DNA against free radical damage, while discouraging the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Vitamin E occurs in eight different forms, but only one of them is considered essential. It commonly appears in supplements as either d-alpha-tocopherol (natural) or dl-alpha-tocopherol (synthetic). The natural form is more biologically active—naturally. (See what we did there?)
As an antioxidant compound, vitamin E is made up of molecules that can give up electrons or hydrogen atoms to unstable free radicals without becoming unstable themselves. This ability neutralizes free radical molecules by restoring a balanced charge, and protects cells from the damaging effects of ROS by preventing the “theft” of electrons through a process called oxidation. Vitamin E also has properties that enable it to prevent the production of ROS when fat is oxidized .
Ultimately, vitamin E antioxidant defense against free radicals is second only to its ability to halt the production of free radicals entirely. After all, prevention is better than treatment! However, the vitamin E benefits don’t stop at its impressive ability to defend against free radicals.
Vitamin E’s benefits clearly run deeper than skin. However, it does provide some great hair and skin perks as well! Its protective properties lend themselves to shielding against damage to hair and skin, promoting glossy, strong locks and a glowing, blemish-free complexion.
If you take a look at your skincare products, there’s a good chance vitamin E will pop up on several ingredient lists!
Just as important as antioxidant support, vitamin E promotes robust immune function. More specifically, it supports T cell production. T cells are tasked with the responsibility of defending the body against harmful foreign substances and prompting other cells to do the same. This helps your body bounce back faster when you’re caught off guard by a cold or the flu.
Vitamin E Sources
Looking for some vitamin E foods to add to your diet? Here are some suggestions for this week’s shopping list:
- Nut oils
- Sunflower seeds
- Safflower and sunflower oil
- Red bell pepper
- Whole grains
- Wheat germ
Health Made E-Z
While vitamin E deficiency isn’t common, here are the symptoms to look out for that signal low levels:
- Loss of sensation in arms and legs
- Muscle weakness
- Nerve and muscle damage
- Vision problems
- Weakened immune system
Certain people are more prone to vitamin E deficiency than others, including those with digestive disorders. Though it’s not often the case, otherwise healthy people may be deficient but not symptomatic. Don’t fret just yet though. Supplementation and dietary adjustments can quickly set unbalanced vitamin E levels to rights!
To make sure you’re providing your body with enough vitamin E for cellular and immune support, try a vitamin E supplement!