I was researching for a review of Vitamin E oil for skin and was very surprised to find how little I knew about natural Vitamin E – and that some of what I thought I knew was wrong!
I read multiple blogs and realized that many people were repeating out-of-date and wrong information. Maybe that’s you too?
So, here I go to try to set the record straight, to give you some of the “new truths” about natural Vitamin E and to ask a big question about something that confuses me.
New Truth #1: Natural Vitamin E Comes From Food
Food sources of Vitamin E include carrots, avocados, cauliflower, blueberries, almonds, and grapes. It is especially prevalent in oils. Highest concentrations are found in wheat germ oil (up to 15%), sunflower oil and safflower oil. Lower concentrations are in oils like corn and soy.
Now, that sounds very straightforward. What’s new about that? Well, it’s because many people are only now starting to remember that vitamins come from food. They don’t come in pill form from the pharmacy!
It was during the early part of the 20th century that vitamins were discovered. For example, Vitamin E was discovered in green leafy vegetables in 1922. Researchers at Yale found Vitamin A in butter in 1913. Shortly after these discoveries, scientists started isolating what they called the active ingredients and making synthetic versions of them.
Whole Foods and Isolates
From about the 1940s, two branches of vitamin manufacturers developed. One branch favored “isolates” – ie single elements, either extracted from their fruit or vegetable source or made in a laboratory. The argument for this was that the chemical structure of a synthetic was the same as from a natural source.
The other branch followed the “whole foods” route, based on the theory that vitamins never occur as single elements in nature. A well-known holistic nutritionist at the time, Dr Royal Lee, made the comment that the problem with synthetic vitamins was that they were too pure. They were single elements without all the cofactors or “synergistic helpers” found in whole foods.
We can see this when we look at the result of an analysis of synthetic ascorbic acid and Vitamin C made from acerola cherries. The two peaks representing Vitamin C are identical – but you are getting so much more when you have the whole food version.
Dr. Lee, all those years go in the 1940s went on to say: “No reasonable student of nutrition can today deny the axiom that all vitamins are complexes and cannot exert their normal physiological effect other than as the complete complex as found in natural foods.”
So, if you’re wondering what is “natural vitamin E”, this is the first part of the answer. The chemical structure of Natural Vitamin E is complex, with more than one element.
New Truth #2: There Are 8 Forms of Vitamin E
Did you know that there are 8 forms of Vitamin E?
Tocopherols and Tocotrienols
Eight different compounds are divided into two groups:
Vitamin E so clearly demonstrates Dr. Lee’s assertion that vitamins are complexes. Vitamin E derived from natural sources can come in different combinations of the eight different compounds – but never with just one on its own. A balance of all eight optimizes its antioxidant function. Generally, all four of the tocopherols will appear together or all four of the Tocotrienols, in varying concentrations. Tocopherols are found in corn, wheat, and soybeans, whereas tocotrienols are in barley, oats, palm, and rice bran.
So, this may give us a further part of the definition for “natural vitamin E” as vitamin E containing more than one of the 8 tocopherol and tocotrienol compounds.
New Truth #3: Natural Really Is Better Than Synthetic
Bioavailability, Cost, and Effectiveness
Your body recognizes natural forms of Vitamin E. Because of this, natural vitamin E has twice the bioavailability of synthetic tocopherol. This means that the body is better able to use natural forms.
Why is this important?
Well, firstly, synthetics can be very expensive.
Natural forms of Vitamin E are generally labeled as d-alpha-tocopherol. Synthetic is dl-alpha-tocopherol. If neither the d or dl are shown, it may be wise to think that you are dealing with a synthetic – no matter what the other claims on the label are. Sometimes, when a chemical has been added, the word tocopherol may be changed to tocopheryl – so look carefully at the label if you are looking for a natural version.
New Truth #4: You May Have a Vitamin E Deficiency
Some Facts From Around the World
You need Vitamin E to fight all the pollution we are surrounded by, and so to fight cancer and other chronic diseases. It’s important for the development of red blood cells and for heart health. Deficiencies are associated with dysfunction of your immune system and impacts brain health. Vitamin E deficiency is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and small children.
A 2012 study in Germany, the UK, The Netherlands, and the USA, found that >75% of the population in the USA and the UK did not meet minimum vitamin levels. You can see this in the scorecard below.
Figure 1: Vitamin E levels in Western countries
This is said to be related to the lifestyle of so-called wealthy nations. Too many people are eating fast foods. Poor agricultural methods are leading to low nutrient values even in food that we think is healthy. Worldwide, the figure is thought to be close to 6 billion people with deficiencies. (This takes us back to our 1st New Truth: Vitamins come from food.)
Vitamin E deficiency levels are just as bad: A study published in 2016 in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutritional Research showed that only 21% of the general population had sufficient levels of Vitamin E in their blood. And this study was only for alpha-tocopherol, so who knows what the levels are for the other forms of Vitamin E! In the USA, the estimate is that 90% of the population do not get enough Vitamin E. In fact, most get less than half the recommended dose.
So, what about you? Are you getting enough Vitamin E?