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Better Nutrition (1989-90)

Fight free radicals with vitamin E; research shows that vitamin E offers protection from cellular oxidation, nitrosamines and artherosclerosis

Fight free radicals with vitamin E; research shows that vitamin E offers protection from cellular oxidation, nitrosamines and artherosclerosis

James Scheer

Fight Free Radicals With Vitamin E

Research shows that vitamin E offers protection from cellular oxidation, nitrosamines and atherosclerosis

A free radical is an oxygen molecule which roams the body in search of an electron, sometimes damaging healthy tissues in a process called oxidation. Cell damage from free radical attack has been linked not only to the onset of early aging, but also to cancer and other degenerative diseases, cataracts, autoimmune disorders, arteriosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

As an antioxidant, vitamin E is one of the ways we can fight free radicals. We can’t live without oxygen, of course, but we need protection to assure that life-giving oxygen won’t cause our cells to deteriorate by means of oxidation. Vitamin E can offer that protection.

Vitamin E also contributes to prostaglandin metabolism. Too little prostaglandin may cause PMS and circulatory irregularities responsible for night cramps.

Another of the vitamin’s protective functions is guarding us against common food preservatives such as nitrates and nitrites used in sausage, ham and other processed meats. In the stomach, these preservatives turn into nitrosamines, strong cancer-causing substances. Vitamin E can block this process. The biological need for vitamin E seems to be limited only by quantities of other antioxidants in the body and by the concentration of free radicals.

Although no specific disease has been related to a deficiency of vitamin E, the vitamin is certainly vital for good health. Initially observed in 1922 in experiments by biochemists Evans, Scott and Bishop who found the substance in lettuce, vitamin E was first synthesized in 1938. The synthetic form of this vitamin was found to be less potent, gram for gram, than the natural form.

The reason? Natural vitamin E, D-alpha tocopherol, has a higher biological activity than the corresponding synthetic form. A St. Louis University study showed that our bodies use natural vitamin E more effectively and beneficially than vitamin E derived from a synthetic source.

A study of the literature by Karen Owen, M.S., biochemist and registered dietitian of Alpine, Calif., reveals that researchers at Duke University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at Davis and the University of Kentucky have found that vitamin E can protect lung tissue from nitrogen dioxide and ozone in smoggy areas.

Americans ingest just 7 International Units (I.U.s) of vitamin E daily, when the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 30 I.U. and much higher amounts are considered protective and safe, said the researchers. Owens cites one study revealing that 800 I.U. of vitamin E daily for three years caused no ill effects in human beings.

Owens cited experiments that demonstrated how nitrogen dioxide and ozone attack the lungs, damaging polyunsaturated fatty acids in the lung cell membranes. Pollutants partially burn the fats in lung cells. These partially burned particles, free radicals, damage or destroy cells in their paths.

More than 20 years of studies have revealed that dietary antioxidants such as vitamins E, A, C and the mineral selenium offer the best possible defense against these air pollutants, according to Owens.

However, natural vitamin E traps and neutralizes the free radicals and protects the lungs more effectively than other antioxidants. Owens refers to a study by Dr. Ching Chow, a University of Kentucky researcher who has tested cigarette smoke and passive smoke on rats and concludes that vitamin E intake minimizes cell damage caused by cigarette smoke in both the smoker and the victim of second hand smoke.

Vitamin E is fat soluble, which means it will not dissolve in water and is stored mainly in the liver and fatty tissues of the body. The two main causes for low serum levels of vitamin E are too little intake due to a bad diet or destruction of the nutrient by overprocessed or overcooked foods, or digestive disorders due to gallbladder or liver dysfunction. (A water-soluble vitamin E is now available in health food stores for people who have these medical conditions).

No one knows for certain how much of this nutrient is optimal, because no deficiency symptom has been found. However, many biochemists believe that the daily intake of a vitamin E supplement should be no lower than 100 I.U.

Much epidemiological evidence suggests that people with high blood levels of vitamin E have a lower risk of cancer — particularly of the colon, stomach, lungs and female organs.

If you are concerned about toxicity from taking too much vitamin E, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of daily intakes of 600 to 3,200 I.U. for three weeks to six months disclosed only a few minor side effects and no major ones.

Vitamin E, when liberally supplied, enables muscles and organs to do the same amount of work while using less oxygen. This is accomplished by increasing the muscles’ efficiency in oxygen uptake and by protecting the muscles against harmful substances produced when blood sugar is converted into energy.

Vitamin E is particularly important to the heart and circulatory system. If this vitamin is undersupplied, dangers of blood clot formation are increased. Blood clots can cause heart attacks, strokes and phlebitis (inflammation of blood vessels).

One of the major reasons alternative doctors administer vitamin E after heart attacks is that it opens up new channels of blood supply (collateral circulation) when an artery is partially or totally blocked.

Vitamin E also widens smaller blood vessels and strengthens capillary walls. By increasing blood supply to an affected area, it also helps to generate new skin and seems to inhibit the overproduction of scar tissue.

Vitamin E’s major function is as an antioxidant and free radical scavenger. In some of its body functions, the essential mineral selenium can spare vitamin E. With a daily intake of selenium, you can obtain maximum protective action with a lower potency of vitamin E.

By taking vitamin E regularly, you may not see or feel a difference in the short term, because the major efforts of this nutrient are at the cellular level. However you will be providing your system with a powerful insurance policy to protect you against internal and external toxicity.

PHOTO : Vegetable oils are rich in vitamin E.

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