About vitamin E: Natural alfa-tocopherol

Professor Maret Traber from the Linus Pauling Institute in the United States has studied vitamin E for a number of years. Traber, in a review article, looked at the most recent science concerning this important, lipid-soluble nutrient. Judging from her work, it looks as if we only need the form of vitamin E called alfa-tocopherol.

Vitamin E comes as either tocopherols or tocotrienols, and there are several kinds. Science has identified four different tocopherols (alfa, beta, gamma, and delta) and four different tocotrienols (alfa, beta, gamma, and delta). In total, there are eight kinds of vitamin E. Plants are able to convert one form of vitamin E to another, while animals and humans are not able to do this.

The body prefers natural alfa-tocopherol

All forms of vitamin E are able to counteract the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency, at least to some extent. However, their biological activity differs widely. The body prefers natural alpha-tocopherol, which is the only form of vitamin E with a specific transport gene.

Alfa-tocopherol – the most potent antioxidant

The different types of vitamin E have approximately the same antioxidant activity, but alpha-tocopherol is the most potent of all. The different forms of vitamin E have widely different biological functions. For example, natural vitamin E is two times more biologically active than synthetic vitamin E. In the case that you ingest synthetic alfa-tocopherol, which contains a blend of synthetic and natural tocopherol, the body will attempt to increase its excretion of the “non-usable”, synthetic part of the vitamin.

The role of vitamin E

Vitamin E’s primary role is to protect the long-chained poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) against lipid peroxidation. It is therefore plausible that vitamin E protects the essential omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, from fish.

Mixed tocopherols

If you ingest a blend of different vitamin E forms, the liver sorts them and returns all alfa-tocopherol to the blood. Any form that is not alfa-tocopherol is broken down and excreted.
Alfa-tocopherol is the form of vitamin E that is the most effective and the safest for consumption.
Used vitamin E (i.e. when it is destroyed by free radicals) becomes a potentially harmful and relatively long-lived atocopheroxyl free radical, but the water-soluble nutrient vitamin C can repair it. Other forms of vitamin E become more reactive, once they are converted into free radicals, and they may even become toxic to cells. The body has no specific mechanisms for speedy removal of alfa-tocopherol. In contrast, these mechanisms exist for the other forms of tocopherol.

Vitamin E uptake

Vitamin E is absorbed by the enterocytes (intestinal cells) of the mucosa in the small intestine. How exactly this happens has not yet been mapped out, but the absorption is best with the presence of dietary fat. Reduced fat uptake from the intestine automatically impairs the uptake of vitamin E. The same is the case with an impaired ability to produce the lipoproteins that
carry lipids, cholesterol, and vitamin E to different parts of the body.
Having sufficient amounts of bile acid is more important for the uptake of vitamin E than having enough lipid-digestive enzymes. The structure of vitamin E may also influence the absorption of the nutrient. There is reason to believe that vitamin E’s solubility in the intestine is more important than how much vitamin E you consume, when it comes to how well the nutrient is absorbed in the gut.

So-called chylomicrons carry vitamin E from the intestine to the liver by way of the body’s lymph and blood vessels. The different forms of vitamin E appear to be broken down and excreted rather fast, apart from alfa-tocopherol. It stays in the system. Studies show that the body breaks down 100 times more gamma-tocopherol than alfa-tocopherol in mg. A large part of synthetic vitamin E is broken and down and excreted rather fast.

The body controls its own vitamin levels

The liver has two different mechanisms for controlling the body’s vitamin E levels. One system controls the uptake, synthesis and excretion of lipoproteins, while the other is the detoxifying liver function that works by means of detoxifying enzymes called cytochrome P450.

Evidence strongly suggest that the body recognized alfa-tocopherol as a vitamin, whereas even low concentrations of other kinds of vitamin E are treated as “foreign substance”, which the body breaks down and gets rid of.

It is therefore natural alfa-tocopherol, which the liver dispatches to the body’s cells by means of special transport proteins called a-TTP. The liver also synthesizes cholesterol that is carried throughout the body with different transport proteins. These transport proteins also contain alfa-tocopherol to prevent cholesterol from oxidizing.

  • VLDL cholesterol particles contain approx. 65 alfa-tocopherol molecules each
  • LDL cholesterol particles contain approx. 8-12 alfa-tocopherol molecules each
  • HDL cholesterol particles contain less than 1 alfa-tocopherol molecule each

VLDL cholesterol is very dependent on a sufficient supply of alfa-tocopherol from the liver to prevent the cholesterol from oxidizing.

Other vitamin E effects

A study from 1993 (Women’s Health Study) showed that supplementing with alfa-tocopherol lowers the rate of venous thrombosis, a blood clot in a vein deep inside the body (typically in the legs). Vitamin E works by preventing vitamin K’s coagulation mechanism.

No risk of overdosing

If you ingest high quantities of alfa-tocopherol, the liver regulates blood
levels of the nutrient in such a way that it is never higher than two to four times its normal level. In contrast to both vitamin A and D, vitamin E can never accumulate to potentially toxic levels in the liver and other tissues.

Few and probably harmless side effect

The seemingly negative effects of vitamin E that are reported from time to time have been discussed by experts, because the alleged side effects can not necessarily be pinned to vitamin E.

Increased bleeding is the only side effect, which toxicologists can link to ingestion of large quantities of vitamin E. This side effect most likely occurs because vitamin E inhibits vitamin K.

Measuring vitamin K

Blood levels of vitamin E do not represent a reliable method for measuring a person’s vitamin E status. In fact, with people who either have to little or too much fat in their blood, blood levels of vitamin E give a very inaccurate picture. The most reliable way to assess the body’s vitamin E status is to measure the amount of vitamin E metabolites in the urine.


Maret Trabers review article refutes earlier reports of problems with overdosing from vitamin E supplements. It also questions the benefits of taking other forms of vitamin E than alfa-tocopherol.


Traber MG. Mechanisms for the Prevention of Vitamin E Excess. J Lipid Res 2013. E-pub ahead of print.

Essential nutrients

Essential nutrients are those vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids that the body needs in order to function.Essential nutrients are those vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and amino acids that the body needs in order to function. We can't do without these substances and there are no other substances that can replace them. It is possible to live a full, long life without ingesting for example, ginseng, rose hips extract and medicine, but it is not possible to survive without getting all the essential nutrients. Deficiency of these substances will inevitably lead to nutritional deficiencies.

Essential in this context means vital or lifesaving.

Nutrient is any substance which when ingested contributes to the body's metabolism, function or growth.

Non-essential nutrients are all the nutrients that the body itself can form.

Essential nutrients - vital for our health

There are 45 nutrients plus water (= 46 substances) which are essential for the body. Essential nutrients are the substances that the body cannot produce and which are
indispensable to the body. This means that a deficiency of one or more of these substances will cause symptoms and ultimately lead to fatal disease. These nutrients are the foundation for our health, and you should always ensure that the supply is optimal. These nutrients have been essential to our health and survival throughout human history and that will not change. In 100 years from now, the same 45 nutrients will be every bit as necessary for our health and survival - regardless of our geographical location, color, age and gender.

What is selenium?

What is selenium?Selenium is a mineral that is related to sulfur. Plants take up selenium from the soil in the form of selenate, just like they take up sulfur as sulfate. The body contains around 13-20 mg of selenium, of which 50% is stored in the liver. All cells contains selenium. The highest selenium concentrations are found in the sexual glands and in semen.

Selenium is a so-called trace element, which means that it is only found in microscopic (trace) amounts in the diet. Selenium is a component of glutathione which we have in all cells. Glutathione was the first selenium enzyme to be discovered.

Organic or inorganic chromium

Organic or inorganic chromiumChromium is an element and a metal. To humans, it is also an essential micronutrient in the form of so-called trivalent chromium. Chromium also exists as divalent and hexavalent chromium but these forms are toxic. All approved chromium supplements contain trivalent chromium. The various chromium forms can bind with a variety of chemical compounds to form other substances.

Chromium contributes to the body's metabolism of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and lipids). However, chromium is better known for its role in regulating blood sugar levels. Without chromium, insulin is ineffective. Chromium's influence on macronutrient metabolism and blood sugar levels are approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The ability to absorb and utilize elements is not very good in humans. The elements in our diet are embedded in food molecules. In food supplements, however, it is common practice to bind elements to various organic or inorganic compounds for increased absorption. Chromium is one of the nutrients which is most difficult for the body to absorb, even in situations where a person is chromium deficient. Chromium has poor bio-availability.

Women benefit from omega-3

Women benefit from omega-3Years of scaremongering against fat has had the unfortunate consequence that many women get too few essential fats in their diet, such as the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Since we humans are unable to produce them in the body, we rely on a steady supply from our diet. This makes them just as important as vitamins and minerals.

Woman who do not eat fish are three times more likely to develop heart disease. A large Danish research project has shown that women of childbearing age who do not eat fish, experience a nearly three times increased risk of heart disease compared to those who eat the most fish. The preventive effect of omega 3 fatty acids on cardiovascular disease is attributed to their anticoagulant and anti-arrhythmic properties, their ability to lower blood levels of fat (triglycerides) and to some extent also cholesterol. More generally omega 3 constitute an important fuel for the cells. Fats are needed to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins in the body, and to transport a large number of signaling molecules and to form vital hormones. They are part of cell walls in the brain, eyes and skin and are essential for their function. Women with dry skin often lack omega 3 fatty acids.


Effective treatment of osteoarthritis with glucosamine

GlucosamineOsteoarthritis makes life difficult for many people but with glucosamine both the symptoms (pain and tenderness) and the breakdown of joint cartilage is effectively halted. The better our joints work, the easier it is to stay physically active and enjoy all the activities that help to keep us youthful and in good shape.

Glucosamine - always with sulfate

It is vital that glucosamine is always combined with sulfur (as glucosamine sulfate), whether you take it as a dietary supplement or as a pharmaceutical drug. Sulfur ensures that glucosamine is effectively transported into the articular cartilage. In the United States there seems to be a tradition for attaching glucosamine to hydrochloride which does not contain sulfur, yet in scientific studies there is a significant difference between glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride. Glucosamine sulfate is without discussion a superior form.

Some patients use the sulfur compound MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) along with glucosamine, but this is only necessary if you take glucosamine hydrochloride. Like MSK, sulfate is a sulfur compound and both are equally effective when combined with glucosamine.

Ubiquinone or Ubiquinol - does it really matter?

Ubiquinone or Ubiquinol - does it really matter?Ever since the discovery of coenzyme Q10 in 1957, scientists have been conducting research with this intriguing nutrient that appears to play a crucial role in human health. Another word for coenzyme Q10 is “ubiquinone” because of its omnipotent importance. “Ubi” means everywhere. In 2006, a new type of CoQ10 called “ubiquinol” surfaced commercially. Clever marketing campaigns attempted to pawn this off as the new and improved CoQ10 source that was absorbed more easily in the body and was superior to ubiquinone. Consumers as well as scientists got confused and started questioning the traditional form of CoQ10 – ubiquinone – although it had been sold commercially and used in studies all along.

More expensive and less stable

Is there really a difference? Is ubiquinol better than ubiquinone? Little information is available about this and to be honest, nobody really knows. In fact, the only known differences between these two types of CoQ10, besides their color (ubiquinol is milky white and ubiquinone is yellowish) is that ubiquinol is a more expensive raw material and is less stable, biochemically speaking.