Levels of alpha-tocopherol (α-Toc) decline gradually in blood throughout prepartum, reaching lowest levels (hypovitaminosis E) around calving. Despite numerous reports about the disease risk in hypovitaminosis E and the effect of α-Toc supplementation on the health of transition dairy cows, its risk and supplemental effects are controversial. Here, we present some novel data about the disease risk of hypovitaminosis E and the effects of α-Toc supplementation in transition dairy cows. These data strongly demonstrate that hypovitaminosis E is a risk factor for the occurrence of peripartum disease. Furthermore, a study on the effectiveness of using serum vitamin levels as biomarkers to predict disease in dairy cows was reported, and a rapid field test for measuring vitamin levels was developed. By contrast, evidence for how hypovitaminosis E occurred during the transition period was scarce until the 2010s. Pioneering studies conducted with humans and rodents have identified and characterised some α-Toc-related proteins, molecular players involved in α-Toc regulation followed by a study in ruminants from the 2010s. Based on recent literature, the six physiological factors: (1) the decline in α-Toc intake from the close-up period; (2) changes in the digestive and absorptive functions of α-Toc; (3) the decline in plasma high-density lipoprotein as an α-Toc carrier; (4) increasing oxidative stress and consumption of α-Toc; (5) decreasing hepatic α-Toc transfer to circulation; and (6) increasing mammary α-Toc transfer from blood to colostrum, may be involved in α-Toc deficiency during the transition period. However, the mechanisms and pathways are poorly understood, and further studies are needed to understand the physiological role of α-Toc-related molecules in cattle. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying hypovitaminosis E will contribute to the prevention of peripartum disease and high performance in dairy cows.
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