Vitamin E is the general term for all tocopherols and tocotrienols, of which alpha-tocopherol is the natural and biologically most active form. Although gamma-tocopherol makes a significant contribution to the vitamin E CONTENT in foods, it is less effective in animal and human tissues, where alpha-tocopherol is the most effective chain-breaking lipid-soluble antioxidant. The antioxidant function of vitamin E is critical for the prevention of oxidation of tissue PUFA. Animal experiments have shown that increasing the degree of dietary fatty acid unsaturation increases the peroxidizability of the lipids and reduces the time required to develop symptoms of vitamin E deficiency. From these experiments, relative amounts of vitamin E required to protect the various fatty acids from being peroxidized, could be estimated. Since systematic studies on the vitamin E requirement in relation to PUFA consumption have not been performed in man, recommendations for vitamin E intake are based on animal experiments and human food intake data. An intake of 0.6 mg alpha-tocopherol equivalents per gram linoleic acid is generally seen as adequate for human adults. The minimum vitamin E requirement at consumption of fatty acids with a higher degree of unsaturation can be calculated by a formula, which takes into account the peroxidizability of unsaturated fatty acids and is based on the results of animal experiments. There are, however, no clear data on the vitamin E requirement of humans consuming the more unsaturated fatty acids as for instance EPA (20:5, n-3) and DHA (22:6, n-3). Studies investigating the effects of EPA and DHA supplementation have shown an increase in lipid peroxidation, although amounts of vitamin E were present that are considered adequate in relation to the calculated oxidative potential of these fatty acids. Furthermore, a calculation of the vitamin E requirement, using recent nutritional intake data, shows that a reduction in total fat intake with a concomitant increase in PUFA consumption, including EPA and DHA, will result in an increased amount of vitamin E required. In addition, the methods used in previous studies investigating vitamin E requirement and PUFA consumption (for instance erythrocyte hemolysis), and the techniques used to assess lipid peroxidation (e.g. MDA analysis), may be unsuitable to establish a quantitative relation between vitamin E intake and consumption of highly unsaturated fatty acids. Therefore, further studies are required to establish the vitamin E requirement when the intake of longer-chain, more-unsaturated fatty acids is increased. For this purpose it is necessary to use functional techniques based on the measurement of lipid peroxidation in vivo. Until these data are available, the widely used ratio of at least 0.6 mg alpha-TE/g PUFA is suggested. Higher levels may be necessary, however, for fats that are rich in fatty acids containing more than two double bonds.
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