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Vitamin E and its forms – Is it advisable to consume synthetic vitamins?

Updated on January 9, 2014

Do you take vitamin capsules voluntarily without consulting a doctor?

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Did you try to increase the intake of vitamin through natural food sources?

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Many of us encourage the billion-dollar industry of vitamin supplements. We all want to stay healthy, fit and active. We generally don’t mind popping in a vitamin pill with a feeling that it will not harm us in any way. We feel that it might do some good to us. We feel that taking a pill is an easy option for getting vitamins in adequate quantities as it relieves us from searching the adequate source of the vitamin in our normal foods (vegetables, fruits, food grains, etc.). But this is always not true. Unfortunately, vitamin pills are associated with some serious hazards.

Ever since Vitamin E was discovered in 1922, its role in various biological functions has been increasingly realized. Apart from this, its promotion as an anti-ageing vitamin as it is rich in antioxidants and in many beauty products across the world has created a high demand for the production of synthetic vitamin E. Research shows that synthetic vitamin E is not exactly similar to natural vitamin E. This leaves us with a question – Can synthetic vitamin E suffice bodily requirement of vitamin E. My article might help the readers to choose the correct source of vitamin E.

Forms of vitamin E

  • Vitamin E is a combination vitamin which exists naturally in eight chemical forms (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol).
  • The analogs or the different forms of fat soluble vitamin E are widely distributed in nature.
  • The antioxidant property of all these analogs is similar, but their biological effects are quite distinct at the molecular level.
  • Alpha- (or α-) tocopherol is the only analog which has the potency to meet human requirements.

The concentration of alpha-tocopherol in blood and cells is higher when compared to other forms of vitamin E

Absorption of vitamin E

Due to the hydrophobic nature of vitamin E, it is absorbed along with fats and requires a special transport system in the aqueous environment of the plasma, body fluids and cells. Vitamin E is absorbed along with dietary lipids and bile in the proximal part the small intestine. After absorption by the intestines, liver takes up the nutrients and resecretes only alpha-tocopherol via the hepatic alpha-tocopherol transfer protein. Hence, liver decides the amount of alpha-tocopherol in serum.

Chances of vitamin E deficiency are very rare as this vitamin is widely distributed. However, the deficiency symptoms are usually observed in people with impaired digestion and absorption of fats, for example, crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, etc.

Recommended intake of vitamin A

Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), provides recommendations for alpha-tocopherol alone as it is the only form maintained in plasma. An average adult requires 15 mg (22.4 IU) of vitamin E. This vitamin is naturally abundant in a large number of food sources like nuts, seeds, vegetable oil and green leafy vegetables. For example, the oil extracted from sunflower seeds contains 59.5 mg/g of α-tocopherol. Soyabean oil contains gamma-, delta-, and alpha-tocopherol at concentrations 62.4, 20.4, and 11.0 mg/g respectively. Nuts like almonds and hazel nuts are also rich in vitamin E.

Natural sources of Vitamin E
Natural sources of Vitamin E

Comparison between synthetic and natural vitamin E

  • The natural form of vitamin E is prefixed with labels "D" or "d", for example, d-alpha-tocopherol, whereas the synthetic form of vitamin E is prefixed with labels "DL" or "dl". One should search for the labels on the package to identify the source.
  • 100 IU of natural vitamin E is equivalent to about 150 IU of the synthetic form. Hence, we need to consume approximately 50% more IU of synthetic vitamin E to match the recommended requirements of the natural form.
  • The synthetic vitamin is a mixture of eight stereoisomers of alpha-tocopherol. The stereoisomers found in d-alpha-tocopherol is present is a very low concentration in the synthetic form of vitamin E (12.5%). The rest of the seven stereoisomers have different molecular configurations, hence affecting their retention in the body and their bioavailability.
  • Proteins of the liver recognize the natural form of vitamin E more efficiently; hence synthetic vitamin usually gets flushed out.
  • The transmission of natural form of vitamin E from mother to baby during pregnancy is thrice more efficient in comparison to the synthetic form.
  • Some studies have correlated synthetic vitamin E with the development of prostrate cancer.
  • The amount of vitamin E present in once-daily multivitamin-mineral supplements is 30 IU whereas supplements containing only vitamin E contain a high concentration of vitamin E (as high as 100 to 1,000 IU per pill). This shows that the pills containing only vitamin E have a very high concentration of vitamin E which is much above the recommended dosage levels. It has been observed that a consumption of even 400 IU of vitamin E per day can increase the chances of internal bleeding.

Hence, people who just pop a vitamin E with an expectation of becoming healthy or having a glowing skin, etc should think twice before taking this pill. Moreover, it is always advisable to acquire vitamin E from natural sources.

Other factors associated with vitamin E

Generally, healthy people do not require vitamin E supplements as we get it from our daily food sources. One should follow the doctor’s advice while taking these supplements. This vitamin interferes with various drugs like blood thinners (Asprin), increasing the risk of bleeding, antidepressant medications affecting their absorption etc. Softgels, tablets, capsules, and topical oil containing vitamin E are available in the market.

We need to make wise choice before taking in these supplements. Even if a number of these supplements are sold over the counter, it makes sense to consult a doctor before taking any of these. Another factor which is not experimented much and not discussed in this article is the chance of dependence. Also, if you are already taking other medications, only a doctor would be able to confirm if any of these supplements have interactions with other medicines or reduce their efficacy.

Did you face any problem due to excessive consumption of Vitamin E?

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    • purnasrinivas profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Bangalore

      Thank you DDE for going through my hub.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Vitamin E and its forms – Is it advisable to consume synthetic vitamins is such a helpful and informative hub. I prefer eating natural foods.

    • purnasrinivas profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Bangalore

      Thank you ChitrangadaSharan for your valuable comment.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very nice hub and well researched!

      Most people pop up Vitamins, without consulting the doctor, whereas these are abundantly available in natural foods.

      Useful and informative, Voted up!


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