Researchers working for DSM Nutritional Products (DNP) have discovered that dietary vitamin E significantly stimulates the hepatic (liver) production of glutathione, which is the body's major line of defence against free radicals and potentially harmful agents and metabolites.
Free radicals and metabolites are produced continuously in the human body, as - for example - a consequence of normal metabolic processes and a result of physical activities, diseases, smoking, alcohol consumption and from the exposure to environmental pollution and UV-light. They are also negatively involved in the aging process.
If these free radicals are not inactivated they can damage the body. Glutathion, which is produced in the liver, protects the body by neutralizing these aggressive agents.
In the DNP study, rats were fed a diet supplemented with or without vitamin E for nine months. Using nutrigenomics, that enable scientists to monitor the activity of thousands of genes, scientists revealed, among other things, that vitamin E stimulates the activity of two key enzymes - glutamyl-cysteinyl-synthase and glutathione synthetase - both important for the production of gluthatione, the body's defense system.
Further analysis of the glutathione concentration in the liver confirmed that animals supplemented with vitamin E had significantly enhanced production of glutathione - thereby increasing the body's major line of defense against toxic substances.
These results reveal that the well recognized antioxidant and protective activities of vitamin E are not only dependent on its own chemical properties but also on its ability to enhance the body's own antioxidant network by glutathione synthesis. In addition this study illustrates the importance of vitamin E for the correct functioning of the liver.
This study was published in the BBA Molecular Basis of Disease (05/04).
Last week, NutraIngredients reported that DSM had lifted its vitamin E capacity to 25,000 tons, making it the world's largest producer of the vitamin.
At an official opening at the former Roche site in Sisseln, Switzerland, the company said the investment of some SF180 million (€117m), would allow it to meet rising global demand for vitamin E and considerably improve its competitiveness.
Vitamin production by the two leading European players, DSM and BASF, has come under significant price pressure from lower cost production and ready supply from China in recent years.
But recent investments by both firms in vitamin E plants in Europe suggests that they have identified cost-savings in current production that will allow them to hold onto a majority share of the world's vitamin E capacity. BASF has capacity of around 20,000 tons, with two Chinese firms holding much of the rest.
DSM believes its new plant offers the lowest production costs of its competitors, giving it a stronger market position and benefits for customers.
Demand for vitamin E is being driven by the feed market (70 per cent of global supply goes to animal nutrition) but also by new research supporting its use in dietary supplements and increasing cosmetic applications. Current growth is expected to be sustained for "at least the next five years," noted Bob Hartmayer, chief operating officer of DSM Nutritional Products.
He said vitamin E is growing faster than the overall food ingredients market at 5-7 per cent on average and is DNP's most important product after vitamin C.
The plant, which began production last November and took over entire vitamin E production in May this year, is currently running at 50 per cent of its full capacity. It can produce 3 tonnes per hour of the highest purity vitamin E.