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Vitamin E is an essential nutrient made up of eight different classes of chemical compounds, four of which fall under the heading of vitamin E tocopherol. The four types of vitamin E tocopherol are gamma tocopherol, alpha tocopherol, beta tocopherol and delta tocopherol, all serving different functions. Health benefits associated with vitamin E tocopherol include decreased risk of certain types of cancer, improved neurological function, and its powerful antioxidant effects on the skin. Many food sources, such as sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach, provide enough adequate and absorbable vitamin E for a healthy person.
When vitamin E was discovered, it was found to have eight different classes of chemicals, four of which are given the term tocopherol. The words "vitamin E tocopherol" are used to describe these four classes of nutrients, all of which are available in a wide range of forms in the human diet. These forms of tocopherols are called gamma tocopherol, alpha tocopherol, beta tocopherol and delta tocopherol, used for different functions in the human body. All tocopherols of vitamin E are powerful antioxidants, acting as scavengers for free radicals, which are dangerous molecules that can promote disease.
Alpha tocopherol is probably the most powerful antioxidant of the vitamin E tocopherols, playing a variety of roles in the human body. One of these roles is the protection of skin from ultraviolet light, as well as helping in building the structural units of hair, skin and nails. Although some foods contain mixtures of different tocopherols, like gamma tocopherol or delta tocopherol, alpha tocopherol is the most abundant source of vitamin E in the human and animal diet. This type of tocopherol is also more readily absorbed and accumulated in the body, and is the preferred source of vitamin E by scientists in nutrition studies.
Without a healthy intake of a vitamin E tocopherol, mainly alpha tocopherol, severe repercussions can occur in the brain and body. Neurological damage and disorder can occur due to a severe lack of vitamin E, as the body must consume it from foods and cannot synthesize it on its own. This is one reason why nutritionists and scientists term vitamin E as an essential vitamin, as it is an essential component of the diet. The main sources of vitamin E tocopherol in the diet are sunflower seeds, almonds and a variety of plant foods like spinach and collard greens.