(NaturalNews) "Vitamin E" is an umbrella term for a group of eight fat-soluble compounds that are found in a wide variety of whole foods. These compounds, of which alpha-Tocopherol is the most biologically active, have a large number of functions in the body. This article takes a closer look at those functions and provides information on how much of the vitamin our bodies need daily.
Like vitamins A and C, vitamin E is an important antioxidant whose primary role in the body is to scavenge free radicals. Free radicals (which are produced by air and water pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation and the consumption of processed foods) are rogue atoms or atomic groups that have lost at least one electron, forcing them to steal electrons from neighboring molecules in the hope of stabilizing themselves. Unsurprisingly, this causes havoc in the body. In fact, unchecked free radical activity is a leading cause of accelerated aging as well as degenerative diseases like cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and cataracts. Since vitamin E can neutralize these free radicals, it can help prevent these serious diseases while ensuring that our skin remains smooth and radiant (this is why vitamin E is added to so many skin care products).
Boosts the cardiovascular system
Vitamin E plays large number of roles in our cardiovascular systems. Firstly, it aids red blood cell formation, ensuring that our tissues receive enough oxygen (which, in turn, guards us from anemia). Secondly, it thins the blood by widening our blood vessels, preventing our platelets from clumping together and creating clots. Thirdly, it prevents "bad" LDL cholesterol from being oxidized, which prevents clogged arteries. For these reasons, high levels of vitamin E in the body have been linked to reductions in non-fatal heart attacks and strokes in subjects. Vitamin E is also shown to reduce complications relating to diabetes.
Maintains cell function
Like most other vitamins, especially the B vitamins, vitamin E helps maintain cell function. For example, vitamin E can aid cell differentiation -- a process of turning generic cells into the specific types of cells our bodies need, resulting in improved cell communication. Of course, proper cell communication is essential if we want our bodies to maintain proper immune function, heal damaged tissues and perform countless other tasks correctly. Additionally, vitamin E is associated with gene regulation, meaning it helps moderate the performance and production of certain enzymes, proteins and hormones in our bodies.
How much vitamin E do we need?
According to official sources, the recommended daily intake of vitamin E is 15 milligrams (22.4 international units) for men and women above the age of 14. The highest safe levels of vitamin E for adults is 1,500 international units per day for natural (i.e. food-based) forms of vitamin E, and 1,000 international units per day for synthetic forms of vitamin E. Exceeding these levels might result in excessive bleeding stemming from the vitamin's anticoagulant effects.
Vitamin E deficiencies are not something most of us need to worry about since a large number of foods contain it. That said, especially good sources of the vitamin include wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, safflower oil, hazelnuts, peanuts, spinach and broccoli.
About the author: Michael Ravensthorpe is an independent writer whose research interests include nutrition, alternative medicine, and bushcraft. He is the creator of the website, Spiritfoods, through which he promotes the world's healthiest foods.