Vitamin E Supplements - The Clearly Confusing Array of Vitamin E Products

Vitamin E

If you start looking at vitamin E supplements, you will quickly start wondering which one is best. Some supplements, like dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate, are cheap-but aren't the kind of vitamin E your body actually needs (at least as an oral supplement). Others, like mixed tocotrienols, are expensive-and what do they do that's worth the extra money, anyway? This article is designed to give you a quick guide to the kind of vitamin E you need for your personal health objectives.

Eight kinds of vitamin E formulated through thirty-two different basic treatments. The reason choosing the right vitamin E product gets a little confusing is that there are eight natural forms of vitamin E. All eight forms of the vitamin are naturally occurring alcohols. Four of them are tocopherols, named alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta, and four of them are tocotrienols, also named alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta. Alpha-tocopherol is the one form of vitamin E that is used in 99 per cent of products and that is researched in 99 per cent of studies, but our bodies use all eight.

When it comes to supplements, the picture gets even more confusing. Alcohols readily evaporate. They react with their containers. To make vitamin E more shelf-stable for long-term storage, manufacturers combine the vitamin E alcohol with a naturally occurring acid to make an ester. The four commonly used natural acids are acetate (from vinegar), succinate (from sugar), linoleate (not from linoleum, but rather form the alpha-linoleic acid that is also an essential fatty acid), and nicotinate (which is a form of vitamin B)

Alpha-tocopherol treated with acetate, for example, becomes alpha-tocopheryl acetate. Alpha-tocopherol treated with succinate becomes alpha-tocopheryl succinate, and so on. The -ate forms of vitamin E are stable in the bottle, but they have to broken down inside your body with enzymes from your pancreas to reactivate the vitamin E. But those are not the only chemical differences that make a difference in how vitamin E works for your health.

Alpha-tocopherol can be natural or synthetic. One of the eight forms of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, can be synthesized. The manufacturing process, however, produces a mixture of molecules, some of which can't actually be used by the human body.

All the molecules of natural alpha-tocopherol can form crystals that rotate light to the right. That is why natural alpha-tocopherol is known as d-alpha-tocopherol. (The "d" stands for "dextrous," or right-handed.)

Some of the molecules of synthetic alpha-tocopherol roate form crystals that rotate light to the left, and some rotate light to the right. That is why synthetic alpha-tocopherol is known as dl-alpha-tocopherol. (The "l" stands for "levulo," or left-leaning.)

And both natural and synthetic alpha-tocopherol can be changed into esters for shelf stability. The results of treating this form of vitamin E with acetate are natural d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate or synthetic dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate, for instance.

It's a lot to keep up with you. You don't really have to. Here's what you need to know:

There is no single best vitamin E supplement for everyone and every time. If you are taking vitamin E for a special health concern, read the article for that concern before buying your supplement. Special health concerns sometimes benefit from special forms of vitamin E.