The majority of vitamin E's benefits stem from its antioxidant qualities. That means it combines with oxygen and destroys free radicals. It protects polyunsaturated fats and other oxygen-sensitive compounds such as vitamin A from being destroyed by damaging oxidation reactions.
Vitamin E and Antioxidation
Vitamin E's antioxidant properties are also important to cell membranes. For example, vitamin E protects lung cells that are in constant contact with oxygen and white blood cells that help fight disease.
But the benefits of vitamin E's antioxidant role may actually go much further. There is significant evidence vitamin E can protect against heart disease and may slow the deterioration associated with aging. Critics scoffed at such claims in the past, but an understanding of the importance of vitamin E's antioxidant role may be beginning to pay off. However, as with betacarotene, the effect of vitamin E in preventing heart disease may be both timing-sensitive and dose sensitive.
Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant in foods. The vitamin E in vegetable oils helps keep them from being oxidized and turning rancid. Likewise, it protects vitamin A in foods from being oxidized. This makes vitamin E a useful food preservative.
The Therapeutic Value of Vitamin E
As an antioxidant with a powerful punch, vitamin E helps prevent cancer, heart disease, strokes, cataracts, and possibly some of the signs of aging.
Vitamin E protects artery walls and keeps the "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from being oxidized. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol marks the beginning of clogged arteries. Vitamin E also keeps the blood thin by preventing blood platelets from clumping together. High levels of vitamin E in the body decrease the risk of a non-fatal heart attack or stroke in most people.
A dynamic cancer fighter, vitamin E protects cells and DNA from damage that can turn cancerous. It reduces the growth of tumors while enhancing immune function and preventing precancerous substances from being turned into carcinogens. Studies with mice show that vitamin E applied to the skin may help prevent skin cancer resulting from exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Women who suffer from fibrocystic breast disease can often find relief with vitamin E supplementation. Fibrocystic breast disease is characterized by painful breasts, sometimes with benign lumps or swelling, starting several days before the menstrual period. Researchers aren't sure why vitamin E helps this condition, but numerous studies indicate that it does.
Vitamin E can be beneficial to people with diabetes. It enhances the action of insulin and improves blood glucose metabolism by reducing oxidative stress.
This humble nutrient keeps the nervous system healthy by protecting the myelin sheaths that surround nerves. It also appears to prevent mental degeneration due to aging, possibly including Alzheimer disease.
Athletes need to get adequate amounts of vitamin E. The body's own metabolism creates free radicals during excessive aerobic exercise. Vitamin E reserves make sure these free radicals don't get out of hand and cause trouble. Vitamin E therapy also treats claudication-pains in the calf muscles that occur at night or during exercise.
Premature babies receive vitamin E to reduce or prevent oxygen damage to the retina of the eye as a result of artificial ventilation.
Ongoing animal studies suggest that vitamin E may limit lung damage caused by air pollution. It appears that vitamin E can reduce the activity of such common air pollutants as ozone and nitrogen dioxide.
Vitamin E applied to cuts may very well increase the healing rate because it minimizes oxidation reactions in the wound and also keeps the wound moist.
Many women report that vitamin E helps reduce hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.
Though vitamin E can slow down the oxidation of fats that occurs in aging, experimental studies have not shown it to increase the life span of animals. Neither has it been shown to control such signs of aging as wrinkled skin or gray hair.
There are many more uses of vitamin E that science is only beginning to investigate. This helpful vitamin will probably continue to make the news every so often.