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Tocopherol, better known as Vitamin E, is a fat soluble chemical essential to human health. In chemical form, it is a viscous liquid that varies in color from yellow to a reddish brown. As a naturally occurring component, it is found in a host 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 also are fortified with tocopherol, making them good sources of this vitamin. Vitamin E supplements also are readily available, alone or in multivitamins.
Tocopherol helps with a number of functions in the human body, such as aiding in cellular respiration and clearing pollutants from the cells. It promotes better circulation by assisting in the function of red blood cells and preventing clots. Its most dramatic function, however, is as an antioxidant, a substance that limits damage done as the body uses oxygen. This process of oxidation produces free radicals, which cause wear and decay to the body and which can contribute to a number of serious degenerative disorders when left unchecked. Antioxidants such as tocopherol break up free radicals, preventing or slowing damage to the body.
The United States Recommended Daily 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 be caused by insufficient levels of the vitamin. Poor fertility and miscarriage also are more likely. Chances of cataracts, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes and some forms of cancer increase as well because of vitamin deficiency.
Tocopherol and its derivatives are widely used in the cosmetics industry, both as natural extracts and as synthetic chemicals. Foundations and powders, blushes and eye shadows, lipsticks, creams and moisturizers all commonly include Vitamin E, as do soaps, shampoos, detergents and hair conditioners. Health and beauty claims regarding the topical use of Vitamin E include moisturizing properties, anti-aging and anti-wrinkle properties, aid in the healing of cuts and scrapes, anti-inflammatory properties, protection from ultraviolet light and protection from environmental pollutants.
Advocates of alternative medicine have suggested that much higher doses of Vitamin E should be taken for optimum health. Mega-doses 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 of greater than 400 mg can cause dizziness, upset stomach or nausea. Studies suggest that mega-doses might actually increase health risks.