Vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant, is a member of a group of
compounds called the tocopherols that come in a variety of forms,
identified by eight Greek letters -- alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon,
zeta, eta, and theta -- making vitamin E sound like a kind of fraternity
or sorority of vitamins.
According to Pelton, vitamin E is nature's "most potent fat-soluble antioxidant" and plays an important role in protecting the membranes of the brain cells and the structures inside the cell from damage by that biggest killer of cells, free radicals. Since the cells in the brain and skin have a greater percentage of fat than other cells in the body, they need the help of the fat-soluble vitamin E to protect them.
Vitamin E takes up residence in the cell membrane to keep the cell wall from being damaged, a little like a guard in the old castles with moats who stands on the castle wall, keeping the enemy from getting in. In the membrane, vitamin E operates to keep the free radicals from getting through to destroy the neurons it protects. As Pelton puts it, vitamin E serves as a "multipurpose defense mechanism against free radical damage."
Vitamin E is a good team player in working with other vitamins and substances to increase protection and mental power. Vitamin E works in concert with vitamin A to Protect against the damage wreaked by air pollutants, especially from nitrogen oxide and ozone. Experts report that vitamin E is more effective when taken with the mineral selenium. It's kind of the vitamin equivalent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The oils of nuts, seeds, and soybeans are especially rich in vitamin E, as long as they are unrefined and cold-pressed. Soybeans, fresh wheat germ, wheat germ oil, whole grains, nuts, and seeds found in health-food stores are high in vitamin E. Eggs are it good source, although with eggs there is unwarranted concern about getting too much cholesterol. Vitamin E is concentrated in dark leafy vegetables, like broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, and cabbage.
Vitamin E supplements come in both natural and synthetic forms, with varying combinations of tocopherols. The most commonly available supplements are natural mixed tocopherols, natural vitamin E, synthetic vitamin E, and mycelized vitamin E. The latter is a fat-soluble vitamin broken up into small Particles to make it soluble in water. Mycelization helps the body to be better able to absorb vitamin E into the membranes of the cell.
As with other vitamins, there has been controversy over the superiority of the natural versus synthetic forms. Some researchers have found that natural vitamin E seems to be more active, perhaps because the vitamin exists in two mirror-image chemical forms: a right-handed chemical arrangement referred to as D-tocopherol and a left-handed arrangement called L-tocopherol. For whatever it's worth, the right-handed D version is the only one that occurs in nature (so natural vitamin E is sometimes referred to as D-alpha-tocopherol), whereas both forms can be produced synthetically (so synthetic vitamin E is sometimes called DL-alpha-tocopherol).
Another controversy surrounding vitamin E is its safety in large dosages. Because vitamin E is fat-soluble, it is stored in the body tissues, and there is concern that it can build up to a toxic level. Some evidence suggests that too much can cause stomach upset, including nausea, gas, and diarrhea. Extremely high doses given to laboratory animals produces toxic effects on the adrenal, thyroid, and sex glands. Mann recommends daily doses of 800 to 1,220 IU International Units are 1 mg. each) taken with meals, and not over 1,600 IU daily. He cautions that people with high blood pressure, overactive thyroid, or heart damage from rheumatic fever should seek supervision of a doctor before taking high doses of vitamin E.
As the years go by, the list of scientifically confirmed health benefits from vitamins continues to grow. In recent years, improved brain functioning has been added to this list. This latest addition only serves to confirm the idea that what is good for our bodies and our overall health is good for our minds as well.