Vitamin E is the common name for a group of compounds called tocopherols, which remain together when extracted from foods. The most active form is alpha tocopherol.
The main action of Vitamin E in the body is as an antioxidant, protecting cells against oxidative damage caused by free radicals. The body’s cells must constantly deal with free radicals, which occur as by-products from foods or from the air. As an antioxidant such as polyunsaturated fats and Vitamin A, Vitamin E protects other substances from oxidation by being oxidised itself.
There is still considerable debate regarding the ability of Vitamin E to prevent heart disease. Population studies have shown an inverse relationship between Vitamin E and coronary heart attack and Vitamin E supplements have been shown to decrease the incidence of heart attacks. Vitamin E acts by controlling the clotting of platelets in the blood and also lowering the number of platelets, therefore decreasing atherosclerosis.
RDI for Vitamin E (mg/day* for NZ)
Men 19+ = 10mg/day
Women 19+ = 7mg/day
NB: *figures are alpha tocopherol equivalents.
The antioxidant benefits of Vitamin E mean there is a benefit to New Zealanders to increase their consumption of Vitamin E. The only problem with doing this via the diet is that this increases the overall fat intake.
Food sources of Vitamin E
The amount of Vitamin E in the diet is related to the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids consumed in the diet. As vegetable oils are a rich source of both, deficiency is rare. Other food sources of Vitamin E are dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli, avocado, kiwifruit, nuts, seeds, soy beans and whole grains. Vitamin E is readily destroyed by heat processing, so highly processed and convenience foods do not contribute enough Vitamin E to ensure adequate intake.
Vitamin E deficiency/toxicity
Deficiency is extremely rare and usually only associated with diseases relating to fat malabsorption. Likewise toxicity is uncommon and does not cause health issues.