Reading the current scientific literature on vitamin E is enough to drive a normal person crazy. One scientific study may claim that vitamin E benefits heart disease while another claims that it not only has no effect, but it may actually harm you. Since many of these studies come from prestigious universities and government agencies, who are you to believe?
Natural vitamin E is a mixture of eight structurally related compounds which includes four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta). For years, alpha tocopherol has been considered the most active, and thus the most studied form of vitamin E. Not only is it the most common form in supplements, but when people speak about vitamin E, they are generally speaking about alpha tocopherol.
What many studies and supplement companies have ignored is the gamma tocopherol form of vitamin E. Gamma tocopherol is the major form of vitamin E in the American diet, and is just recently beginning to receive the attention it deserves. While both alpha and gamma tocopherols have antioxidant activity, gamma tocopherol has the unique ability to scavenge reactive nitrogen species. This unique ability gives gamma tocopherol potent physiological activities. Numerous peer reviewed publications have shown gamma tocopherol to be effective with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and general overall health.
So what is with the confusion in the literature? Many studies have used only the alpha form of vitamin E. When the study doesn’t work, a general statement is made that vitamin E is not effective in that particular study. The correct conclusion would be that alpha tocopherol was not effective for that study. In addition, studies have shown that supplementation with alpha tocopherol alone actually decreases plasma gamma tocopherol levels.
So what does this mean for you? When reading the literature on vitamin E, always check to see which form of vitamin E was supplemented. Keep in mind that alpha and gamma tocopherols have similar, but different functions in the body. If the study did not use mixed tocopherols, than keep in mind the study’s conclusion will not be for vitamin E, but will be for one form of vitamin E only. Also, keep in mind that taking only alpha tocopherol may actually lower your levels of gamma tocopherols. This may also have physiological effects. Finally, when taking a supplement always take a supplement with mixed tocopherols.