Are You Taking The Right Vitamin E?

By Dr. David Blyweiss

Most health practitioners, including myself, agree that everyone can benefit from vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerhouse nutrient. It helps lower both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and raises “good” HDL cholesterol. It’s been shown over and over again to reduce risk of heart attack, rev up the immune system, fight cancer and decrease the risk of developing cataracts. The surprising development is that, while high levels of dietary vitamin E have consistently shown these effects, typical vitamin E supplements have not. And there is a reason for this.

Most people think vitamin E is just a simple vitamin. But the reality is that what we know as vitamin E is actually a series of related compounds that have vitamin E activity. There are four main forms of vitamin E, or tocopherols (another name for vitamin E): alpha, beta, gamma and delta.

Get out your bottle of vitamin E and check the label. What you will probably find is vitamin E in one of the following forms: alpha tocopheryl succinate, alpha tocopheryl acetate, vitamin E, natural vitamin E, mixed tocopherols or natural tocopherols. The problem with this is that an effective supplement must contain the correct ratio of tocopherols. Yet most vitamin E supplements rely either exclusively or heavily on alpha tocopherol at the expense of the other forms—especially gamma tocopherols.

Gamma tocopherol is the most prevalent form of vitamin E in grains, seeds and nuts. Yet, very few studies have evaluated gamma-tocopherol in the body. Those that have suggest that it may have potent physiological actions. While both alpha- and gamma-tocopherol are powerful antioxidants, gamma-tocopherol has a unique function. Because of its different chemical structure, gamma-tocopherol scavenges reactive nitrogen species, which, like reactive oxygen species, can damage proteins, lipids and DNA. Not only does this help prevent premature aging, preliminary data from Perdue University suggests that gamma tocopherols might halt the growth of prostate and lung cancer cells.

Gamma tocopherol is also a better anti-inflammatory than the alpha form. It is very good at controlling chronic inflammation-related diseases including arthritis, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. But cardiovascular health is where gamma tocopherols really shine.

A study in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology indicates that mixed tocopherols (gamma, delta and alpha) counteract the development of cardiovascular disease when compared to an intake of large amounts of pure alpha tocopherol. In the laboratory experiment, a mixture of tocopherols was found to have a stronger inhibitory effect on lipid peroxidation in human red blood cells than alpha-tocopherol alone.

In another study, serum concentrations of gamma tocopherol, but not of alpha tocopherol, were lower in patients with heart disease than in their healthy counterparts. And in a cross-study of Swedish and Lithuanian middle-aged men, plasma gamma tocopherol concentrations were twice as high in the Swedes, who had a 25 percent lower incidence of cardiovascular disease-related mortality. In contrast, this inverse correlation was not observed with alpha tocopherol.

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Don’t get me wrong—alpha tocopherol is definitely good for you. It is a stronger antioxidant than any of the other tocopherols. But gamma tocopherol provides potent benefits that alpha tocopherol does not. And emerging research shows that a combination of gamma tocopherol plus alpha tocopherol gives synergistic benefits in the protection against cardiovascular disease, cancer and many other diseases.

The next time you’re shopping for a vitamin E supplement, look at the label closely. If it doesn’t provide ample amounts of gamma tocopherols in relation to alpha tocopherols, put it back on the shelf.  How much should your vitamin E supplement contain? Opt for a supplement that contains at least 50 mg. of gamma tocopherols. It’s also smart to look for natural alpha tocopherol instead of a supplement that contains the synthetic form. How can you tell the differences? Natural is listed as d-alpha tocopherol instead of dl-alpha tocopherol. Combined with a diet rich in dietary vitamin E, taking a natural gamma-rich vitamin E supplement can give you all that this incredible nutrient has to offer.


Clement M. Graded dietary levels of RRR-gamma-tocopherol induce a marked increase in the concentrations of alpha- and gamma-tocopherol in nervous tissues, heart, liver and muscle of vitamin-E-deficient rats. Biochem Biophys Acta 1997;1334:173-181.

Gysin R. Gamma-tocopherol inhibits human cancer cell cycle progression and cell proliferation by down-regulation of cyclins. ASEB Journal. 2002;16:1952-1954.

Liu M. Mixed tocopherols have a stronger inhibitory effect on lipid peroxidation than alpha-tocopherol alone. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. 2002;39:714-721