Vitamin E is a term used to refer to eight molecules, which are divided into two categories: tocopherols and tocotrienols. Each category is further divided up into alpha (α), beta (β), gamma (γ), and delta (δ) vitamers. The vitamer α-tocopherol is considered to be the ‘main’ vitamer, but the gammas (γ-tocopherol and γ-tocotrienol) are also popular research topics, due to their presence in the diet. Collectively, these compounds are called vitamin E. Vitamin E supplements almost always contain α-tocopherol.
The majority of vitamin E’s benefits come from avoiding a deficiency, but there are several instances where supplementation can offer additional benefits. Supplementing α-tocopherol is able to improve T-cell mediated immune function, which boosts the immune system.
Vitamin E also seems to be able to enhance the body’s antibody response to vaccinations. Vitamin E is particularly important for the elderly, since a deficiency is associated with a higher risk of bone fractures. Supplementing additional vitamin E, however, will not provide additional benefits to bone health. Vitamin E may also be able to protect against age-related cognitive decline, but further research is needed before supplementation can be recommended specifically for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s treatment.
Vitamin E was one of the first two antioxidant compounds to be sold as dietary supplements, the second being vitamin C. It is sometimes used as the ‘reference’ antioxidant compound when fat soluble compounds are being researched. Vitamin E may function as a signaling molecule within cells and for phosphate groups.
Since the majority of vitamin E’s benefits are associated with low doses slightly above the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), vitamin E supplementation is not always necessary. Dietary changes can singlehandedly prevent a vitamin E deficiency and eliminate the need for supplementation. Sesame seeds in particular contain a lot of tocotrienols, as well as sesamin, which improves the retention of vitamin E. Low-dose vitamin E is safe to supplement, but it should not be mixed with coumarin-based anticoagulants like warfarin. High-dose long-term vitamin E supplementation (above 400IU per day), however, may be associated with increased risk of death and increased risk of prostate cancer.