Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 43–56 | Cite as

Vitamin E: action, metabolism and perspectives

  • E. HerreraEmail author
  • C. Barbas


Natural vitamin E includes four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. RRR-α-tocopherol is the most abundant form in nature and has the highest biological activity. Although vitamin E is the main lipid-soluble antioxidant in the body, not all its properties can be assigned to this action. As antioxidant, vitamin E acts in cell membranes where prevents the propagation of free radical reactions, although it has been also shown to have pro-oxidant activity. Non-radical oxidation products are formed by the reaction between α-tocopheryl radical and other free radicals, which are conjugated to glucuronic acid and excreted through the bile or urine. Vitamin E is transported in plasma lipoproteins. After its intestinal absorption vitamin E is packaged into chylomicrons, which along the lymphatic pathway are secreted into the systemic circulation. By the action of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), part of the tocopherols transported in chylomicrons are taken up by extrahepatic tissues, and the remnant chylomicrons transport the remaining tocopherols to the liver. Here, by the action of the “α-tocopherol transfer protein”, a major proportion of α-tocopherol is incorporated into nascent very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), whereas the excess of α-tocopherol plus the other forms of vitamin E are excreted in bile. Once secreted into the circulation, VLDL are converted into IDL and LDL by the action of LPL, and the excess of surface components, including α-tocopherol, are transferred to HDL. Besides the LPL action, the delivery of α-tocopherol to tissues takes place by the uptake of lipoproteins by different tissues throughout their corresponding receptors. Although we have already a substantial information on the action, effects and metabolism of vitamin E, there are still several questions open. The most intriguing is its interaction with other antioxidants that may explain how foods containing small amounts of vitamin E provide greater benefits than larger doses of vitamin E alone.

Key words

Vitamin E α-Tocopherol Antioxidants Lipoproteins 


La vitamina E natural incluye cuatro tocoferoles y cuatro tocotrienoles, de los cuales el RRR-α-tocoferol es el más abundante en la naturaleza y presenta la máxima actividad biológica. Aunque es el principal antioxidante liposoluble del organismo, no todas las propiedades de la vitamina E pueden achacarse a esta acción. Como antioxidante, la vitamina E actúa en las membranas celulares donde evita la propagación de las reacciones de los radicales libres, aunque también puede ejercer acciones pro-oxidantes. En la reacción del radical α-tocoferilo con otros radicales lib res se forman compuestos no-radicales, que se conjugan al ácido glucurónico y son excretados por la bilis o la orina. La vitamina E se transporta en las lipoproteínas plasmáticas, Tras su absorción intestinal, la vitamina E se asocia a los quilomicrones, que a través de la vía linfática son secretados a la circulación sistérnica. Por acción de la lipoproteíns lipasa (LPL), parte de los tocoferoles presentes en los quilomicrones son transferidos a los tejidos extrahepáticos, y los remanentes de los quilomicrones transportan los tocoferoles restantes al hígado. En el hǵado, por acción de la „proteína transferidora de α-tocoferol”, una parte sustancial del α-tocoferol es incorporado a las VLDL nacientes, mientras que el resto, junto a las otras formas de vitamina E, es eliminado por la bilis. Una vez secretadas a la circulación, las VLDL son convertidas en IDL y LDL por acción de la LPL, y compuestos de superficie (incluyendo el α-rocoferol) son transferidos a las HDL. Además de la acción de la LPL, la llegada del α-tocoferol a los tejidos tiene lugar a cravés de la captación de las lipoproteínas, mediada por sus respectivos receptores. Aunque se cuenta con una amplia información sobre la acción, los efectos y el metabolismo de la vitamina E, aún hay pendientes numerosas cuestiones por dilucidar, y de entre ellas cabe destacar la interacción de la vitamina E con otros antioxidantes, lo que puede explicar cómo alimentos que contienen pequeñas proporciones de aquella producen mayores beneficios que grandes dosis de la vitamina sola.

Palabras clave

Vitamina E α-Tocoferol Antioxidantes Lipoproreínas 


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© Universidad de Navarra 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Facultad de Ciencias Experimentales y TécnicasUniversidad San Pablo-CEUBoadilla del Monte, Madrid(Spain)

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