Chemistry and biology of vitamin E

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005 Jan;49(1):7-30. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200400049.


Our understanding of the role of vitamin E in human nutrition, health, and disease has broadened and changed over the past two decades. Viewed initially as nature's most potent lipid-soluble antioxidant (and discovered for its crucial role in mammalian reproduction) we have now come to realize that vitamin E action has many more facets, depending on the physiological context. Although mainly acting as an antioxidant, vitamin E can also be a pro-oxidant; it can even have nonantioxidant functions: as a signaling molecule, as a regulator of gene expression, and, possibly, in the prevention of cancer and atherosclerosis. Since the term vitamin E encompasses a group of eight structurally related tocopherols and tocotrienols, individual isomers have different propensities with respect to these novel, nontraditional roles. The particular beneficial effects of the individual isomers have to be considered when dissecting the physiological impact of dietary vitamin E or supplements (mainly containing only the alpha-tocopherol isomer) in clinical trials. These considerations are also relevant for the design of transgenic crop plants with the goal of enhancing vitamin E content because an engineered biosynthetic pathway may be biased toward formation of one isomer. In contrast to the tremendous recent advances in knowledge of vitamin E chemistry and biology, there is little hard evidence from clinical and epidemiologic studies on the beneficial effects of supplementation with vitamin E beyond the essential requirement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants
  • Arteriosclerosis
  • Biological Transport
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / chemistry
  • Neoplasms
  • Oxidants
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Vitamin E / chemistry*
  • Vitamin E / pharmacokinetics
  • Vitamin E / physiology*
  • Vitamin E Deficiency
  • alpha-Tocopherol / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Fatty Acids
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Oxidants
  • Vitamin E
  • alpha-Tocopherol