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Vitamin E And Heart Disease

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Definition

Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it dissolves in fat rather than in water. By attaching to fat, Vitamin E is carried through the body. This is one reason why moderate amounts of fat are needed in the diet. The body can store fat-soluble vitamins. However, because the body does not excrete vitamin E as it would a water-soluble vitamin, it is possible to accumulate vitamin E to toxic levels if too much is taken in.

What food source is the nutrient found in?

The best sources of vitamin E are:
  • vegetable oils, including sunflower, safflower, canola, corn, olive, and wheat germ oil, and products made from these oils, such as margarine
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • wheat germ
  • mustard greens
  • broccoli
  • unprocessed cereal grains
Leafy-green vegetables also contain Vitamin E, but in smaller amounts.
Refined grains, such as white flour, have had the germ removed. Since the germ of the seed is where vitamin E is located, foods made from refined flours are not good sources. Whole-wheat flour contains much of the original germ and is a much better source of vitamin E.

How does the nutrient affect the body?

Vitamin E's main function is as an antioxidant. This means it helps protect the body cells from oxidation, a chemical reaction in the body that can lead to cell damage because of its by-products. It is also a natural part of aging. Many scientists believe that this cell damage can lead to chronic health problems such as heart disease.

Information

Vitamin E's role in heart disease prevention is not completely understood. Scientists believe that it may protect artery walls from the build up of plaque. It may help to strengthen blood vessel walls. It may also reduce LDL, known as the "bad", or "lethal" cholesterol, and increase HDL, known as the "good", or "healthy" cholesterol.
Vitamin E also has mild blood-thinning properties. This may keep platelets, the parts of the blood that enable the blood to clot, from sticking together and also protect arteries.
Other studies from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute are trying to pinpoint how much antioxidant we need for health benefits. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and selenium work with vitamin E to protect the body.
Additional diet and lifestyle factors are also key factors in cutting the risk of heart disease. There should also be a balance between the intake of vitamins and minerals. Too much of one vitamin can cause imbalances in the amounts of other vitamins in the body.
Groups including the American Heart Association and the American Dietetics Association continue to recommend a balanced diet as the first step toward disease prevention, with antioxidant-rich foods such as:
  • fresh fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits, and strawberries
  • fresh vegetables, including broccoli, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and spinach
  • whole grains
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin E is currently 15 mg daily for adult men and women, 19 mg for a breastfeeding woman. It is difficult to get enough vitamin E from food alone. The government estimates that 68 percent of men and 71 percent of women do not get enough vitamin E daily. To get the full benefit of vitamin E, a supplement is recommended.
Alpha-tocopherol, the most potent form of vitamin E, is what is the usual form in supplements. The Board has set an upper level of 1,000 mg for alpha-tocopherol . Upper levels are not the recommended amount to take. They are the maximum amount of a vitamin or mineral that can be taken safely without causing health problems. People should not routinely go above the set upper levels for any vitamin or mineral.
Very large doses can lead to health problems instead of providing health benefits. Too much vitamin E can interfere with blood clotting and increase a person's bleeding time to harmful levels.
Several large research studies have looked at whether vitamin E can help prevent heart disease. The results are conflicting. Some of the more recent, largest studies do not confirm a benefit. The clearest recommendation is that people should consult their healthcare professionals before starting to take high doses of any vitamin. This is especially true for people taking blood-thinning medicines, such as aspirin, warfarin sodium, or coumadin.

Sources

Somer, E., MA, RD.&Health Media of America. (1995). The Essential Guide To Vitamins and Minerals (2nd ed.). New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Duffy, R., MS, RD, CFCS. (1996). The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food&Nutrition Guide. Minnesota: Chronimed Publishing.

Murray, M., ND. (1996). Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. California: Prima Publishing.

Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences'. (April 10, 2000). Press Release, "Antioxidants' Role in Chronic Disease Prevention Still Uncertain; Huge Doses Considered Risky"

The Harvard Heart Letter. (August, 1997). Harvard College.

Tribble, D L, PhD, Antioxidant Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: Emphasis on Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and B-Carotene, Circulation 1999: 99:591-595.

Hensrud, D, Dr., 1998, Vitamin E - As good as a vitamin gets?, Mayo Clinic Health Oasis.

Sarubin, A. (2000)The Health Professional's Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements.Chicago, IL: The American Dietetic Association

[University of California at Berkeley.(1992). The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition. New York: Health Letter Associates.

Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences'. (April 10, 2000). Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids.

Heart Disease and Women: So You Have Heart Disease, (September, 1995), National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health

Position Statement, (October 1998), American Heart Association Science Advisory and Coordinating Committee.

American Dietetic Association. (1998). Antioxidant Vitamins for Optimal Health Fact Sheet.

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