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Vitamin E requirements are given as international units in which 1 IU equals 1 milligram of dl-tocopherol. "Free Radicals," vitamin E is very important to us because it is an antioxidant. There is no difference between natural vitamin E and "d" vitamin E. The "d" denotes the chemical structure of the vitamin E molecule. Two preparations that contain identical amounts of natural vitamin E and dl-tocopherol are identical in their tocopherol content. (The natural preparation is usually more expensive.)

There are a few myths about vitamin E that need to be cleared up. Vitamin E has been touted as the great "sex vitamin." There is no absolute proof that this vitamin affects sexual competency except that rats deficient in vitamin E fail to reproduce. Vitamin E has not been shown to make a man more potent or to increase a woman's sex drive. As you know, sexual performance is a complex interaction between psychological and physical factors. In addition, vitamin E probably does not slow down the aging process per se; there is certainly no strong evidence for this. But it is a potent antioxidant, and aging is thought to be a process of oxidation (oxygen reacting with body tissues). Finally, there is some evidence that the elderly can walk longer distances after six months of supplemental vitamin E, but good studies concerning this have not yet been done.

Vitamin E has many important functions:

It is a potent antioxidant and, as such, acts as a scavenger, damaging free radicals that may produce cancer. Many studies have been done concerning the effect of vitamin E on the inhibition of cancer. The results show that vitamin E can inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells.

As an antioxidant, it may protect you from the cancer-inducing effects of smog. This protective quality of vitamin E has already been shown in animals.

It protects the body against the oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Therefore, it is essential that you take enough vitamin E if your diet contains polyunsaturated fats. As you recall, polyunsaturated fats help to reduce the amount of blood cholesterol.

Vitamin E is essential for the normal function of red blood cells. A deficiency causes an anemia in children.

Vitamin E, among other nutrients, is beneficial for a very common breast disease, fibrocystic breast disease, which affects 50 percent of all women. This is a benign condition in which cysts develop, usually in both breasts, giving the breasts a granular consistency, and often associated with pain. However, women with fibrocystic disease have a two- to eightfold greater risk of developing breast cancer. Several recent-studies report that 85 percent of women (twenty-six in the study group) with fibrocystic disease who took 600 IU of vitamin E daily for eight weeks experienced relief of the pain associated with their disease, and some of these women had demonstrable regression of disease. The women whose disease did not respond had lower vitamin E levels when checked, suggesting poor vitamin E absorption.

Vitamin E reduces LDL levels (lipids involved in atherosclerosis) and increases HDL levels (lipids that protect against atherosclerosis).

Supplementing with 600-1,200 IU of vitamin E daily may help prevent diabetic complications.

There is no case on record of vitamin E toxicity nor any indication of vitamin E toxicity. A daily intake of 800 IU of vitamin E per 2.2 pounds of body weight for five months has not been toxic. This amounts to 56,000 IU (56,000 milligrams) for an average man weighing 140 pounds, or about 5,600 times the RDA. A good dose of vitamin E seems to be 400 to 600 IU (400 to 600 milligrams) daily.

As ridiculous as it may sound, some people, including some physicians, believe that vitamin E causes cancer. They reason that since the molecule of vitamin E looks similar to estrogen, it can cause breast cancer. This is absolutely absurd! There are hundreds of molecules in the body that are formed from the same basic cholesterol ring structure. The body is able to discriminate one molecule from another even if there is only a slight difference between their structures. For instance, what differentiates men from women is a mere methyl group, СНз, on two different cholesterol rings. Obviously, mother nature has this under control.

Vitamin E is safe and has never been shown to cause cancer or changes in the DNA or RNA, nor has it ever been shown to cause changes in fetal development—even at very high doses of 3.200 IU.