Since its discovery in 1922 Vitamin E has become generally regarded as one of the body’s most powerful, versatile and useful anti-oxidants. And as such its importance should not be underestimated, because anti-oxidants are the principal defense against the free radicals which are responsible for much of the degeneration and consequent disease which afflicts the human body as it ages.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of vitamin E in protecting against and restricting the progression of cardiovascular disease, including atherosclerosis. Vitamin E also appears to have anti-coagulant properties similar to the drugs prescribed for this purpose, and may therefore help to protect against the highly dangerous blood clots which can lead to stroke still one of the main causes of premature death and disability in the western world.
Vitamin E is also needed in large quantities by the brain, the proper functioning of which is highly dependent on the efficient transmission of messages between cells through their fatty membranes. As a fat-soluble anti-oxidant, vitamin E is an important protector against the free radical damage to these cell membranes which may well be one of the principal causes of age-related vision loss, cognitive deterioration and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Cancer is well known as predominantly a disease of degeneration, so it’s not surprising that a powerful anti-oxidant and immune system booster such as vitamin E should have been shown to offer a degree of protection against it. Vitamin E may also protect healthy cells against the damaging side effects of aggressive chemo and radio therapies and has further demonstrated possible benefits for those suffering from diabetes, and rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
So the combined effects of vitamin E allow little room for doubt that it’s one of the body’s most powerful general protectors. But sadly it’s none too easy to obtain an adequate supply of this crucial vitamin from diet alone. The richest sources of vitamin E are leafy green vegetables, certain types of nuts, vegetable oils and whole grains; foods which are sadly under represented in the modern, highly refined and processed, high fat Western diet.
Fortunately, however, supplements of vitamin E are readily available in quantities such as 400 IU per capsule, which generally recognised as both safe and effective. The problem is that supplementation with vitamin E alone is highly unlikely to be effective, because the action of the vitamin is dependent on a chain, each link of which must be present if it’s to function properly.
To begin with, vitamin E cannot do its work in the absence of an adequate supply of active vitamin C. In its turn, vitamin C cannot remain active without the presence of glutathione. And although is the most prevalent anti-oxidant enzyme in the body, glutathione cannot act effectively in the absence of the trace mineral, selenium, and vitamin B3 (niacin).
Glutathione, along with superoxide dismutase and catalase, is one of the key antioxidant enzymes, that work in a closely complementary fashion to form the body’s first line of defence against superoxide free radicals. The body particularly needs the fat-soluble glutathione to work with vitamin E to soak up and neutralise any rogue hydrogen peroxide molecules in those vital parts of the cells, such as the membranes, which are actually formed of fat. Further free radical attack would otherwise turn the hydrogen peroxide into hydroxyl, the most damaging free radical of all, which, once formed, cannot then be neutralised by any enzyme.
Selenium and B3 are therefore just as essential to a successful anti-oxidant rich diet as the better known vitamins E and C.
So whilst the amounts of any particular nutrient required by the body may be tiny, in the case of selenium as little as 50 micrograms, the effects of any deficiency may be nevertheless disastrous. So the point always to remember is that the body’s systems and the nutrients serving them work synergistically. There’s generally little point in lavish supplementation with one or even several particular nutrients if the rest of the diet is of poor quality and does not provide an adequate supply of all the others.
This point is particularly clear in the way that the vital anti-oxidant qualities of vitamin E are highly dependent upon a complex interaction with vitamins C and B3, and selenium, an adequate supply of all of which is therefore absolutely necessary if the maximum protective effects of vitamin E and the body’s anti-oxidant enzymes are to be enjoyed.