“It’s got antioxidants!” is a common expression used now of days to sell some of the latest diet products bloating the shelves of retail stores nation-wide. It sounds great especially when it is connected to “may slow age-related degeneration” or “may increase vitality and longevity”. However, before falling for a sales pitch that extremely stretches the truth (hence the word “may”) it might be a good idea to first ask ourselves, “Well what the heck is an antioxidant anyway?”
In short, it is a molecule or compound willing to donate electrons (those negatively charged particles of an atom) to a reactive oxygen species (ROS) that is “electron hungry” in order to prevent damage to the body’s cells. A ROS is created after a free radical (molecules containing an unshared electron) is generated through either metabolism (particularly that of fat), sunlight exposure, or by environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke and then reacts with oxygen. The unstable ROS would love to take or oxidize the electrons of our healthy cells but an antioxidant steps in and says, “Hey dude you can take mine. It’s no big deal.” Antioxidants thus prevent systemic chain reactions of free radicals bouncing all over the place in our bodies wreaking havoc and causing cell death or damage. We have already discussed two antioxidants, which were vitamin C and beta-carotene, and so now it is time to put the spotlight on the antioxidant all star vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols).
- Once again each unspecified point, whether on the pentagon shapes or rigid lines, is representative of a carbon (C) atom which also has attached hydrogen (H) atoms that are not shown. Double sets of lines indicate that a double bond (a stronger bond) exists between two adjacent atoms such as carbon and carbon in these cases. If there was a set of three parallel lines, a triple bond would exist between two adjacent atoms which is the strongest kind that can form.
Acting as an antioxidant really is vitamin E’s primary job but it also assists in healthy immune function, widens blood vessels, prevents clotting, and aids in the health of our eyes and skin (often found in lotions and moisturizers). It is a vitamin that is often abused supplementally due to very shaky and inconclusive evidence that it can prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cataracts. While the above claims are probably untrue what may happen instead from chronic vitamin E supplementation (hypervitaminosis E) is the reduction of the body’s ability to form clots to stop blood flow after cuts or injuries (especially if an individual is already on an anticoagulant like warfarin), inhibits vitamin K (allows for clotting) or causes deficiency, and can interact negatively in persons undergoing chemo or radiation therapy. Deficiency of this micronutrient may be the result of a diet that is very fat restrictive and symptoms include loss of muscular coordination and muscle weakness, nerve damage, retinopathy (damage to the retinas of the eyes), impaired immune system, and cell death. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 15 milligrams (mg) for adults aged 19 years and older (19 mg if breastfeeding) and the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is 1,000 mg daily for adults 19 and above.
Vitamin E (unlike folate) absorps better from foods (d-alpha-tocopherol) than the synthetic form of it in supplements (dl-alpha-tocopherol) and this may also have to do with the fact that fat soluble vitamins absorb better in fatty meals or foods (this explains the reason why there is less vitamin D added to whole milk than skim milk because more will be needed in fat free dairy products since absorption is impaired). Our best sources of vitamin E are wheat germ oil (20.3 mg in 1 tablespoon [tbsp]), dry roasted sunflower seeds (7.4 mg in 1 ounce [oz]), dry roasted almonds (6.8 mg in 1 oz), sunflower oil (5.6 mg in 1 tbsp), safflower oil (4.6 mg in 1 tbsp), dry roasted hazelnuts (4.3 mg in 1 oz), peanut butter (2.9 mg in 2 tbsp), and dry roasted peanuts (2.2 mg in 1 oz). Both vitamin C and vitamin E can be destroyed by excessive heat for long duration with cooking and so it may be a good idea to use medium heat or to cook for less time when dealing with C and E foods.
Sources: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/; http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitamin-e/NS_patient-vitamine; http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminE/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_E