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Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that exists in eight different forms. Each form has its own biological activity, which is the measure of potency or functional use in the body. Alpha-tocopherol is the name of the most active form of vitamin E in humans. It is also a powerful biological antioxidant. Vitamin E in supplements is usually sold as alpha-tocopheryl acetate, a form of alpha-tocopherol that protects its ability to function as an antioxidant. The synthetic form is labeled 'D, L' while the natural form is labeled 'D'. The synthetic form is only half as active as the natural form.
Antioxidants such as vitamin E act to protect your cells against the effects of free radicals, which are potentially damaging by-products of energy metabolism. Free radicals can damage cells and may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Studies are underway to determine whether vitamin E, through its ability to limit production of free radicals, might help prevent or delay the development of those chronic diseases. Vitamin E has also been shown to play a role in immune function, in DNA repair, and other metabolic processes.
Vitamin E deficiency?
Vitamin E deficiency is rare in humans. There are three specific situations when a vitamin E deficiency is likely to occur.
1. Persons who can't absorb dietary fat due to an inability to secrete alkaline, a green yellowish liquid or with rare disorders of fat metabolism are at risk of vitamin E deficiency;
2. Individuals with rare genetic abnormalities in the alpha-tocopherol transfer protein are at risk of vitamin E deficiency; and
3. Premature, very low birth weight infants (birth weights less than 1500 grams, or 3 pounds, 4 ounces) are at risk of vitamin E deficiency.
Blood levels of vitamin E may also be decreased with zinc deficiency. Vitamin E deficiency is usually characterized by neurological problems associated with nerve degeneration in hands and feet. These symptoms are also associated with other medical conditions.
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