When summoned from the body's fatty tissue where it's stored, vitamin E--and it's antioxidant powers--go into action, protecting cells by deactivating or destroying the potentially damaging oxygen molecules called free radicals.
Vitamin E also helps in the formation of red blood cells and facilitates the use of the trace mineral selenium and vitamins A and K.
But this thinking is changing as researchers also are identifying heart-healthy powers in the tocotrienols.
Manufacturers now offer combination products, although tocotrienols are still easiest to find in single supplement form.
To realize vitamin E's full health benefits, however, you really need both tocopherols and tocotrienols.
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Scientists identified vitamin E about 80 years ago, but only in the past few decades has its power as an antioxidant been revealed and fully appreciated.
Initially, there was great interest and excitement regarding what this vitamin could do for a number of ailments, particularly heart disease.
Well-designed studies completed recently, however, have found that the effect may be a less beneficial than once thought.
One point on which most sources agree is that vitamin E-rich foods are the optimal way to ensure adequate levels of this nutrient in the body.
Wheat germ, almonds, peanuts, vegetable oils (safflower, corn, soybeans), green leafy vegetables, and walnuts are just a few prime sources.
Given that many of these foods are also high in fat and calories, however, it's also worth considering a vitamin E supplement of 400 IU daily.