In the past couple of decades, a slough of studies has looked at the benefits of vitamin E and other antioxidants. While a considerable amount of this research touts the advantages of consuming antioxidants, some of the studies have found that in certain cases, antioxidants, including vitamin E, may actually increase the potential for developing heart disease, cancer and a host of other health problems.
This study provides clues as to why this could happen, say Jiyan Ma, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry, and his colleague David Cornwell, an emeritus professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry, both at Ohio State.
The two men led a study that compared how the two most common forms of vitamin E one is found primarily in plants like corn and soybeans, while the other is found in olive oil, almonds, sunflower seeds and mustard greens affect the health of animal cells. The main difference between the two forms is a slight variation in their chemical structures.
In laboratory experiments, the kind of vitamin E found in corn and soybean oil, gamma-tocopherol, ultimately destroyed animal cells. But the other form of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, did not. (Tocopherol is the scientific name for vitamin E.)
"In the United States we tend to eat a diet rich in corn and soybean oil, so we consume much greater amounts of gamma-tocopherol than alpha-tocopherol," Cornwell said. "But most of the vitamin E coursing through out veins is alpha-tocopherol the body selects for this version. We want to know why that is, and whether the selection of the alpha-tocopherol confers an evolutionary benefit in animal cells."