Scientists have finally discovered a natural purpose of vitamin E and the role it has in the human body.
Wait, what? Haven’t we always known the importance of this vitamin
? Why else would people take it?
Well, for years, it has been rubbed on the skin to reduce signs of aging and athletes have consumed it in an effort to improve endurance, but the true function of vitamin E
has really never been known before.
According to the team of researchers from the Georgia Health Sciences University who made the discovery, vitamin E helps repair tears in the plasma membranes that protect cells from outside forces and filter what goes in and out of the cell.
The study, published in the scientific journal Nature Communications
, concludes century-old studies on animals that provided early links between vitamin E deficiencies to muscle problems. Even though we ingest vitamin E almost effortlessly (as it is found in many of the foods we eat), it was never known exactly what effect the vitamin had on our bodies.
The plasma membrane in our cells are regularly torn each day from normal activities like eating or exercising, and vitamin E is essential to repairing them. Without this repair, muscles would eventually waste away and die in a process that is very similar to muscular dystrophy.
How Does it Work?
There are several different ways that vitamin E aids plasma membrane repair. Because it is an antioxidant, it serves to eliminate any potential dangerous or destructive byproducts that are produced from the body's use of oxygen, which can hinder the ability to self-repair. Also, because it is lipid soluble, it can freely travel in and out of a cell's membrane to prevent any negative radicals from attacking the cell. Lastly, it helps keep phospholipids compliant and healthy so they may repair easier after a tear.
The cellular repair is not just limited to muscles, either. In a separate study where hydrogen peroxide was used to produce free radicals, the skeletal cells would not heal unless they were pretreated with vitamin E. Future Applications
Using two recent grants, the research team plans to examine the membrane repair mechanisms in animals that have a vitamin E deficiency. Another, much bigger study would examine the membrane repair failure that occurs in diabetic patients
, and the results could lead to better medicine and treatments for the muscle pains commonly reported by those with diabetes.
For now, the studies will remain focused on diabetes and the effects of defective membrane repair, but the recent discovery sheds a window into an innate function of vitamin E that slipped past us before, and could lead to the findings of other functions for the vitamin.