What’s tocopherol?

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Vitamin E, or tocopherol, is a fat-soluble chemical found in many foods and supplements. It acts as an antioxidant, aids in cellular respiration, and helps prevent a variety of medical conditions. It is commonly used in cosmetics and supplements, but megadoses are not recommended.

Tocopherol, better known as vitamin E, is a fat-soluble chemical essential for human health. In chemical form, it is a viscous liquid that ranges in color from yellow to reddish-brown. As a natural component, it is found in a large number of foods, including vegetable oils, nuts and nut oils, grains, green and yellow vegetables, some fruits, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Breakfast cereals and many other prepared foods are also fortified with tocopherol, making them good sources of this vitamin. Vitamin E supplements are also available, alone or in multivitamins.

Tocopherol helps with a number of functions in the human body, such as aiding in cellular respiration and removing pollutants from cells. Promotes better circulation by aiding in red blood cell function and preventing clots. However, its most dramatic role is as an antioxidant, a substance that limits the damage caused when the body uses oxygen. This oxidation process produces free radicals, which cause wear and tear in the body and can contribute to a number of serious degenerative disorders when left unchecked. Antioxidants like tocopherol break down free radicals, preventing or slowing damage to the body.

The US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E is 15 milligrams daily. Tocopherol deficiency can lead to a variety of medical conditions and diseases. Fatigue, acne, anemia, gallstones, and premature aging can all be caused by insufficient levels of the vitamin. Poor fertility and miscarriage are also more likely. The chances of cataracts, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes, and some forms of cancer are also increased due to vitamin deficiency.

Tocopherol and its derivatives are widely used in the cosmetic industry, both as natural extracts and synthetic chemicals. Foundations and powders, blushes and eye shadows, lipsticks, creams, and moisturizers commonly include vitamin E, as do soaps, shampoos, detergents, and hair conditioners. Health and beauty claims regarding topical use of vitamin E include moisturizing properties, anti-aging and anti-wrinkle properties, aiding in the healing of cuts and scrapes, anti-inflammatory properties, protection from ultraviolet light, and protection from environmental pollutants.

Alternative medicine advocates have suggested that much higher doses of vitamin E should be taken for optimal health. Megadoses have also been used to treat a number of serious medical conditions, including glaucoma, cataracts, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. These very high doses have not been found to be effective in treating any of these conditions, and doses greater than 400 mg may cause dizziness, upset stomach, or nausea. Studies suggest that megadoses may actually increase health risks.

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