Vitamin E is a broad-term that commonly refers to a group of eight fat-soluble compounds with antioxidant activity. Vitamin E works in the body by preventing oxidation and damage to cells caused by free radicals. When free radicals react with oxygen the body naturally produces reactive oxygen species that damage cells.
Not only is vitamin E a powerful antioxidant, it also protects essential fatty acids and Vitamins A and K. Vitamin E was discovered in the 1920s and synthesized for the first time several years later. Although vitamin E is an antioxidant it seems deeply connected with regeneration and the health of cells. Vitamin E is broken into two groups, tocopherols, which are more common, and tocotrienols, which were discovered later and are different from tocopherols in their isometric construction.
Vitamin E is naturally present in vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains, and nuts. Due to the fat-soluble nature of vitamin E, foods rich in these vitamins are often have a high fat content, like avocados or wheat germ. Vitamin E includes four tocopherols and four tocotrienols both with four sub-classifications Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.
The body uses vitamin E by absorbing it in the small intestines. The liver then processes the vitamin E and selectively secretes only alpha tocopherol, using a special protein. Since alpha tocopherol is the only form of vitamin E retained in the body and present in blood it has been studied more than any other.
List of E vitamins
- Tocopherol (Alpha tocopherol)
- Tocopherol (Beta tocopherol)
- Tocopherol (Gamma tocopherol)
- Tocopherol (Delta tocopherol)
- Tocotrienol (Alpha tocotrienol)
- Tocotrienol (Beta tocotrienol)
- Tocotrienol (Gamma tocotrienol)
- Tocotrienol (Delta tocotrienol)
Functions and Health Benefits
In vitro cell studies have shown vitamin E prevents blood from adhering to artery walls, dilates blood vessels, and prevents platelets from sticking and forming clots.
- Vitamin E helps the body to use vitamin K more effectively.
- Red blood cells are formed with the help of vitamin E.
- Vitamin E in involved in the function of a healthy immune system.
- Although less than 1% of vitamin E studies are on tocotrienols, there is evidence they may specialize in protecting nerve cells and neurons.
Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency can include anemia, muscle weakness, loss of muscle mass, loss of muscle tone, problems transmitting nerve impulses, issues with stability and balance, degeneration of the retina, problems seeing, and difficulty controlling eye movement.
Vitamin E deficiency is very rare in healthy adults with an average caloric intake. People with serious medical conditions that effect fat absorption are most likely to suffer from a vitamin E deficiency. Medical conditions that affect fat-absorption in the intestines include Crohns disease, cystic fibrosis, problems with the pancreas, chronic diarrhea, and greasy stools.
There are also severe very rare medical conditions that prevent-fat absorption, including a genetic condition called abetalipoproteinemia, which requires massive doses of Vitamin E for ever pound of body weight and AVED Ataxia and Vitamin E Deficiency is genetic condition where the protein in the liver that secretes vitamin E is totally absent. People with these rare conditions need to take vitamin E supplements to prevent the symptoms of deficiency from occurring.
Premature babies with a very low birth weights are at an increased risk for vitamin E deficiencies, adding a vitamin E supplement could help eye health but may increase the risk for infections. Talk with your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of a vitamin supplements for newborns. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for children under six months of age is 4 milligrams or 6 international units.
Vitamin E is naturally found in eggs, fish, dark leafy greens, bright orange vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains. Fruits and vegetables rich in fat also contain vitamin E. In the US fortified cereals are supplemented with vitamin E, mainly in the form gamma tocopherol. In vitro and animal studies have recently indicated gamma tocopherol may be a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Population studies are currently being conducted on the effective of gamma tocopherol on cardiovascular disease and cancer risk.
- Proteins, fats, and oils
- Vegetable oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Corn oil
Fruits and Vegetables
- Green and orange fruits and vegetables are particularly high in vitamin E.
- Oranges/orange juice
- Sweet potato
- Sweet Red Peppers
- Turnip Greens
- Dandelion Greens
Seeds, Nuts, and oils
- Roasted sunflower seeds are extremely high in vitamin E.
- Brazil Nuts
- Peanut butter
- Wheat bran contains 100% of the daily vitamin E requirement in one tablespoon.
- 0 to 6 months: 4 mg/day
- 7 to 12 months: 5 mg/day
- 1 to 3 years: 6 mg/day
- 4 to 8 years: 7 mg/day
- 9 to 13 years: 11 mg/day
- Adolescents and Adults
- 14 and older: 15 mg/day
- Blood pressure medications that use beta-blockers
- Cancer and chemotherapy drugs
- Statin drugs for high cholesterol, including Zocor, Lipitor, and Crestor
- Bile acid sequestrants used to treat high cholesterol.
- Vitamin E may counteract the side effect of the HIV/AIDS medication AZT.
- The weight loss medication Alli prevents vitamin E from being absorbed.
Health benefits and Effectiveness
Due to correlations between certain medical conditions and low Vitamin E blood serum levels alpha tocopherol has been studied for its effectiveness of everything from cancer to Alzheimers and sun sensitivity. Unfortunately, vitamin E has not proven to be consistently effective in preventing these health conditions in long term population studies, lasting four to eight years.
Population studies have shown patients with lower risk of heart disease were found to have higher levels of vitamin E. Leading scientists hypothesize that vitamin E was responsible for the correlation; studies have not been so conclusive. One of the largest studies on vitamin E and heart health the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) trial showed that daily consumption of 400 IU of vitamin E did not lower the risk of heart disease-related deaths in men and women who were at a high risk.
Likewise, the Physicians’ Health Study II tracked more than 14,000 male doctors at a low risk for heart disease and proved that consuming 400 IU of vitamin E every other day for eight years did not reduce the risk of cardiovascular attacks.
One study with positive results showed that postmenopausal women who consumed foods rich in vitamin E lowered their risk for stroke-related deaths. However, the same study showed that vitamin E supplements were not an effective preventative strategy.
Congenital Heart Defects
According to studies in the Netherlands and the National Health Service in the UK, mothers with high vitamin E diets and those who consumed vitamin E supplements, while pregnant and before conception, have a nine-fold increased for delivering a child with congenital heart defects (CHD.)
The data in this study was limited because mothers were questioned about their diet when children were already 16 months old, so its not a good indication of the diet before or during pregnancy.
Officials in the UK warn against taking vitamin E supplements during pregnancy, saying consumption equal to 75% of the daily allowance could be too much vitamin E, leading to an increase rick for congenital heart defects in newborns.
Although there have been studies showing a deceased risk for prostate cancer in patients with high vitamin E levels, this has not been backed up in large population studies. Despite a study on vitamin E showing a 30% reduction in prostate cancer, a clinical trial SELECT (Selenium Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial) carried out on 35,000 men for four years was subsequently cancelled after an independent panel showed no reduction in prostate cancer risk with vitamin E alone or a combination of selenium and vitamin E.
Another large population study on 29,000 male smokers showed lower prostate cancer risk and fewer deaths in patients who took 50 mg of vitamin E daily. One large eight-year study of men who took 400 mg of vitamin E every other day showed no reduction in overall cancer risk. Vitamin E in the form alpha tocopherol has not been proven to reduce breast cancer risk, or prevent lung or pancreatic cancer. Additionally, taking vitamin E supplements after diagnosis with cancer doesnt improve treatment, in fact, antioxidants may interfere with chemotherapy drugs. Talk to your medical provider before taking any vitamin E supplements if you are undergoing chemotherapy.
Vitamin E has also been studied on colorectal cancer, but hasnt been proven to reduce risk in women or diabetics. However, there is evidence that vitamin E in combination with vitamin A and vitamin C may protect people with benign tumors, considered a precursor to colon cancer.
Scientists have linked oxidation with the incidence of Alzheimers, unfortunately vitamin E has not proven to be consistently effective in slowing the onset of Alzheimers symptoms.
Once study, comparing vitamin E to placebo, showed these patients developed Alzheimers at the same rate, while another study on 340 patients, comparing vitamin E to placebo and a pharmaceutical Alzheimers medication selegiline showed that patients given 2,000 IU of vitamin E slowed the onset of the disease by 200 days, compared to placebo, but selegiline was more effective.
Vitamin E has been proven to play a critical role in eye health. A combination 400 IU of vitamin E, 80 mg of zinc, 15 mg beta-carotene, and 500 mg vitamin C benefits patients with advanced macular degeneration–the leading cause of blindness in people over 55. People with advanced macular degeneration had the greatest benefit from this treatment. Further research is needed to see if this treatment works to prevent AMD and if it is effective on less advanced cases.
A combination of vitamin E and vitamin C is also proven to help uveitis, an inflammatory condition affecting uvea a layer of the eye between the white part and the retina. Patients with uveitis who took vitamin E supplements had consistently clearer vision that those on placebo.
Recommended Daily Intake
The following is a recommended daily intake of vitamin E based on age, according to The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine. The recommended value depends on age, sex, and other medical factors. Always talk to your doctor before taking a vitamin E supplement.
In 2004 the American Heart Association warned that high doses of vitamin E may be harmful, taking more than 400 IU of vitamin E per day may increase the risk of death. Small doses of vitamin E, like those found in multivitamins, have not been proven to be harmful.
Due to the complex nature of the immune system and antioxidant defense system supplements of vitamin E may not have the same effect as vitamin E found naturally in foods. Vitamin E in foods naturally contains many forms of tocopherols and tocotrienols. For best results eat a well balanced diet including all of the food groups.
Vitamin E supplements are available in soft gels, tablets, capsules, and topical oils. Vitamin E is naturally fat-soluble, meaning it is most commonly an oil, however, special water-soluble forms of vitamin E are available, these especially important to people who cant absorb fat.
Vitamin E is available in natural and synthetic forms. Natural vitamin E is sold as d-alpha-tocopherol and the synthetic form is always labeled dl-alpha-tocopherol.
Applying Vitamin E oil is one of the most popular home remedies for lessening the appearance of stretch marks, scars, and burns. Despite its popularity vitamin E is not proven effective at improving the appearance, size, or thickness if scars. Not only was vitamin E not effective but about one third of people in the study developed contact dermatitis from the topical application. Always test vitamin E oil on the inside on your arm before using.
Always check with your doctor before taking a vitamin E supplement, vitamin E reacts with many popular prescriptions. Do not take vitamin E if you are on any blood thinning medications, like aspirin, Warfarin and Coumadin, as it can increase the risk for bleeding.
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- Anahad O’Connor, The Claim: Vitamin E helps Remove Scars New York Times.