Vitamin E

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Chapter: Biochemistry : Vitamins

The E vitamins consist of eight naturally occurring tocopherols, of which α-tocopherol is the most active.


The E vitamins consist of eight naturally occurring tocopherols, of which α-tocopherol is the most active (Figure 28.28). The primary function of vitamin E is as an antioxidant in prevention of the nonenzymic oxidation of cell components (for example, peroxidation of polyunsaturated FAs by molecular oxygen and free radicals).

Figure 28.28 Structure of vitamin E.


A. Distribution and requirements of vitamin E

Vegetable oils are rich sources of vitamin E, whereas liver and eggs contain moderate amounts. The RDA for α-tocopherol is 15 mg/day for adults. The vitamin E requirement increases as the intake of polyunsaturated FA increases to limit FA peroxidation.


B. Deficiency of vitamin E

Newborns have low reserves of vitamin E, but breast milk (and formulas) contain the vitamin. Very-low-birth-weight infants may be given supplements to prevent the hemolysis and retinopathy associated with deficiency of vitamin E. When observed in adults, deficiency is usually associated with defective lipid absorption or transport. [Note: Abetalipoproteinemia, caused by a defect in the formation of chylomicrons (and VLDL), results in vitamin E deficiency.]


C. Clinical indications

Vitamin E is not recommended for the prevention of chronic disease, such as coronary heart disease or cancer. Clinical trials using vitamin E supplementation have been uniformly disappointing. For example, subjects in the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study trial who received high doses of vitamin E not only lacked cardiovascular benefit but also had an increased incidence of stroke.


D. Toxicity of vitamin E

Vitamin E is the least toxic of the fat-soluble vitamins, and no toxicity has been observed at doses of 300 mg/day (UL = 1,000 mg/day).

Populations consuming diets high in fruits and vegetables show decreased incidence of some chronic diseases. However, clinical trials have failed to show a definitive benefit from supplements of vitamins A, C, or E; multivitamins with folic acid; or antioxidant combinations for the prevention of cancer or cardiovascular disease.

The vitamins are summarized in Figure 28.29.

Figure 28.29 Summary of vitamins. P = phosphate; NAD(P) = nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (phosphate); FMN = flavin mononucleotide; FAD = flavin adenine dinucleotide; CoA = coenzyme A. Summary of vitamins.

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