Why Vitamin E is essential for our health

Only in recent decades has light been shed on one of the most important vitamin nutrients for our lives

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Why Vitamin E is essential for our health
© Mario Tama / Staff Getty Images News

Vitamin E or tocopherol is an essential and vital nutrient for humans, a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant, present in many vegetables, for example in fruit, hemp oil, olive oil and especially in germ oil of wheat. Tocopherol is one of the main compounds called vitamin E, and for this reason its name is commonly used interchangeably.

Seeds and, consequently, the oils derived from them, such as hemp oil, followed by cereals, fruit and vegetables. Hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds are very rich in vitamin E. The vitamin content is reduced by cooking processes, especially frying and baking.

Vitamin E can also be lost when in contact with oxygen. This phenomenon is accentuated by the simultaneous presence of metals and polyunsaturated fatty acids and reduced by the presence of antioxidants. Developing vitamin E deficiency is complicated as its deposits in the body are large.

The premature newborn, on the other hand, has poor deposits of this compound and can therefore develop deficiency phenomena characterized by hemolytic anemia and sometimes edema of the lower limbs. In adults, vitamin E deficiency can appear only in cases of malabsorption or abetalipoproteinemia and this leads to the onset of a neurodegenerative syndrome with peripheral neuropathy, myopathy and cerebellar ataxia and, furthermore, a correlation with seborrheic dermatitis has also been noted.

The importance of vitamin E for our health

The vitamin has an important role, as an antioxidant factor, in preventing the oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids, a key event in the development of the lipid peroxidation process.

This event, triggered by the action of free radicals, develops through chain reactions that continue the process. Vitamin E is able to block this phenomenon by donating a hydrogen atom to peroxylipid radicals, thus making them less reactive and effectively blocking lipid peroxidation.

This redox reaction transforms vitamin E into an α-tocopheroxyl radical which is rather stable, thanks to the development of resonance phenomena, and which can react with vitamin C or with glutathione or with coenzyme Q10 to reform α-tocopherol .

Since the development of lipid peroxidation can lead to profound alterations of cell membranes, we understand why vitamin E is recognized as having an important role in keeping these structures intact. This is also verified by the fact that erythrocytes, which are particularly subjected to oxidative stress, are affected quite quickly by vitamin E deficiency states, becoming more sensitive to haemolysis.

Furthermore, vitamin E appears to regulate the activity of lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase. These enzymes are involved in the formation of prostanoids, compounds capable of mediating platelet aggregation phenomena which are accentuated by the lack of the vitamin.