Vitamin E (Tocopherol)

December 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Vitamins

Keywords: antioxidant, anti-cataracts, red cell protection


  • Antioxidant, especially combating peroxidation of unsaturated fats in cell membranes
  • Development and maintenance of nerve and muscle function
  • Fertility
  • Immunity
  • Preventing photo-oxidative damage to eye lens
  • Prostaglandin modulation
  • Red cell membrane stability
  • Reduces oxygen needs of muscles
  • Spares vitamin A

Good food sources

  • Almonds
  • Butter
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Oats
  • Peanuts
  • Soy oil
  • Sunflower oil and seeds
  • Wheatgerm and wheatgerm oil
  • Whole grains

Deficiency signs and symptoms

  • Age spots (accumulation of lipofuscin)
  • Cataracts
  • Damage to cell membranes
  • Increased red cell fragility and haemorrhaging
  • Infertility
  • Muscle weakness
  • Neuromuscular damage
  • Possibly autoimmune diseases

Preventing deficiency

Many countries make the replacement of some of the lost B vitamins compulsory in products made from refined (white) flour, since the B vitamins are, like vitamin E, mostly found in the germ of the flour, not in the white, starchy portion. Unfortunately vitamin E is not replaced in this way although 92 per cent of vitamin E in wheat is lost when flour is refined, and most of the rest is destroyed by bleaching.

Cooking food in fats destroys 70 to 90 per cent of the fats’ vitamin E content, especially when the fats are old or rancid. Boiling destroys about one third of the vitamin E in carrots, cabbages and brussels sprouts. The storage of foods, even when frozen, can result in heavy vitamin E losses, e.g. frozen French fries can lose up to 74 per cent after two months’ storage. Two thirds of the vitamin E can be lost during the production of commercial vegetable oils. Fat malabsorption causes deficiency.

Vitamin E needs are related to the intake of polyunsaturated fats because vitamin E is used up in the process of preventing their oxidation. The bioavailability of Vitamin E is decreased by an excessive intake of polyunsaturated fats.

Vitamin C and the amino acid glutathione have a sparing effect on vitamin E.

Smoking can lead to a vitamin E deficiency (Pacht ER et al: Deficiency of vitamin E in the alveolar fluid of cigarette smokers. Influence on alveolar macrophage cytotoxicity. J Clin Invest 1986;77(3):789-96). Levels of vitamin E are also significantly lower in users of the contraceptive pill (Tangney CC et al: Vitamin E status of young women on combined-type oral contraceptives. Contraception 197817(6):499-512.)


Vitamin E is one of a group of nutrients known as tocopherols. The tocopherol with the greatest vitamin E activity is thought to be alpha-tocopherol, but as yet we know little about the roles of the other tocopherols in health, and it cannot be assumed that they are without value. Tocopherols are found in conjunction with plant oils, especially those with polyunsaturated oils, and are concentrated in the germ.

Severe vitamin E deficiency has marked similarities to two diseases: muscular dystrophy and myasthenia gravis, which both involve increasing muscle weakness and dysfunction. Other symptoms of these diseases which also occur in vitamin E deficiency include lipofuscin deposits,(brown ‘age spots’ on skin) low plasma vitamin E concentrations, creatinuria, and increased plasma creatine phosphokinase activity (all indicative of muscle cell damage). The same symptomatology is also seen in conditions where there is intestinal malabsorption of fat: cystic fibrosis of the pancreas or cirrhosis, sprue and chronic pancreatitis.

Information compiled by Linda Lazarides
Naturopathic Nutritionist, Author, Educator

Linda Lazarides is Course Director of the School of Modern Naturopathy and author of eight books on health, nutrition and naturopathy.

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