“Vitamin E” denotes a naturally-occurring group of eight related compounds: four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta tocopherol) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, delta tocotrienol). It is a cell protection vitamin.

Al­pha-to­co­pherol is ex­tremely im­por­tant for the human body and is found in the largest quan­ti­ties (1). It is specif­i­cally se­lected and con­cen­trated in the liver. The other forms of vi­t­a­min E occur in far lower con­cen­tra­tions. It is for this rea­son that in 2000 the US Food and Nu­tri­tion Board rec­om­mended defin­ing rec­om­mended in­takes of vi­t­a­min E based on al­pha-to­co­pherol (2).

Prod­ucts such as veg­etable oils, which con­tain vi­t­a­min E, are not nec­es­sar­ily rich in al­pha-to­co­pherol. For in­stance, the soya beans and corn oils that are pop­u­lar in the USA con­tain more gamma than al­pha-to­co­pherol. Wheat germ oil on the other hand con­tains sub­stan­tial amounts of al­pha-to­co­pherol.

The nat­ural form of al­pha-to­co­pherol con­tained in plants is called “RRR alpha to­co­pherol” or “D-al­pha-to­co­pherol”. En­riched foods and food sup­ple­ments mostly con­tain the syn­thetic “All-rac-al­pha-to­co­pherol” or “DL al­pha-to­co­pherol”. This con­tains RRR al­pha-to­co­pherol and seven very sim­i­lar forms of al­pha-to­co­pherol. All-rac-al­pha-to­co­pherol is de­fined as bi­o­log­i­cally less ac­tive than nat­ural RRR al­pha-to­co­pherol. 

Fur­ther In­for­ma­tion

1) Tra­ber MG. Uti­liza­tion of vi­t­a­min E. Bio­fac­tors. 1999; 10(2-3):115–120
2) Food and Nu­tri­tion Board, In­sti­tute of Med­i­cine. Vi­t­a­min E. Di­etary ref­er­ence in­takes for vi­t­a­min C, vi­t­a­min E, se­le­nium, and carotenoids. Wash­ing­ton D.C.: Na­tional Acad­emy Press; 2000:186–283. 

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