Vitamin E

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Vitamin E is a naturally occurring, fat-soluble essential nutrient known for its antioxidant properties and impact on eye, skin, heart and brain health. Because of its fat-solubility, vitamin E is more readily stored in the body as opposed to water-soluble nutrients. Adequate intake of this vital nutrient aids in regulating immune functions, inhibiting platelet aggregation (clotting), and protecting cells and tissues from oxidative damage1. The body does not produce its own vitamin E, so it must be obtained from supplements or food.    

Forms of Vitamin E

Vitamin E comes in eight different chemical forms. Of that group, alpha-tocopherol is the only form of vitamin E known to meet human requirements. Alpha-tocopherol helps to protect the body against free radicals, which are highly reactive, unstable molecules that increase oxidative stress and cause damage to cells.

Eight Forms of Vitamin E:

  • Alpha-tocopherol (meets human requirements)
  • Beta-tocopherol
  • Gamma-tocopherol
  • Delta-tocopherol
  • Alpha-tocotrienol
  • Beta-tocotrienol
  • Gamma-tocotrienol
  • Delta-tocotrienol  

Vitamin E Is Also Known As

Vitamin E supplements also come in natural and synthetic forms. Natural vitamin E is often labeled as d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate, or d-alpha tocopheryl succinate, and is believed to be absorbed easier by the body. Synthetic vitamin E is labeled dl-alpha tocopheryl, succinate, or acetate.

Benefits of Vitamin E

Vitamin E plays a major role in the defense system of the body’s cells. This role as a versatile cellular antioxidant means vitamin E is essential to a number of the body’s functions.

Vitamin E is essential for heart health

For those experiencing a considerable level of oxidative stress (cell damage), the risk for conditions like heart disease is increased. Excess production of free radicals have been shown to cause harmful changes to the functions of the heart and play a significant role in heart failure2. Because Vitamin E is such a powerful antioxidant, it can help boost and support the body’s antioxidant defense system, ridding the body of excess free radicals.

Vitamin E is essential to hormonal balance

In addition to its antioxidant properties, Vitamin E also has properties similar to estrogen, androgen and progesterone. Because of these properties, vitamin E has the ability to act synergistically, helping to naturally balance hormones3.

Vitamin E is essential for the immune system

As an antioxidant, vitamin E has the ability to improve immune functions. Because cellular immunity decreases with age, proper intake of vitamin E can help slow down this process. High intake of vitamin E has been shown to improve the immune functions of the elderly and those suffering from immune deficiency4.  

Vitamin E is essential for healthy skin

Maintaining optimal levels of vitamin E is important to maintaining the appearance and elasticity of the skin. Vitamin E levels in the skin begin to drop as we age, contributing to the decline of skin quality. Similar to its other functions, vitamin E helps to protect the skin against cell damage, preventing issues like skin thickness, inflammation and premature signs of aging5. Unlike its other functions that require vitamin E to be taken orally, the skin can benefit from topical applications of alpha-tocopherol. Vitamin E is a very popular ingredient for skin creams and lotions. Research also suggests that vitamin E has photo-protective properties, helping to shield the skin from UV damage.

Daily Recommended Allowance

For adults, the recommended daily intake of vitamin E is 15 milligrams. Taking over the recommended allowance of vitamin E can result in nausea, vomiting, headaches and fatigue. Because vitamin E is fat-soluble, it is harder to rid of the body than water-soluble nutrients.  High doses of vitamin E have also been found to increase the risk of prostate cancer.

High doses of vitamin E are sometimes used to treat conditions like Alzheimer's and other neurological disorders, but only under the supervision of a licensed physician.

How to Use

Aside from topical applications, vitamin E supplements should be taken orally. Synthetic vitamin E supplements are available in capsule and liquid form. Simply take the daily recommended dose as instructed. Because of its fat-solubility, it is best to take vitamin E with a meal containing some type of dietary fat.

Symptoms of Vitamin E Deficiency

Although vitamin E deficiency is rather uncommon, there are a few warning signs to look out for. Here are some symptoms of vitamin E deficiency:

  • Disorientation
  • Vision Problems
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Loss of Muscle Mass
  • Numbness/ Tingling
  • Skin Damage
  • Weakened Immune System
  • Hair Loss

Who Is at Risk of a Deficiency

Vitamin E deficiency is typically the sign of an underlying issue. Because vitamin E is readily available in many food items, lack of vitamin E usually has to do with issues relating to absorbing or obtaining fat.

Poor Diet

Although unlikely for most American diets, because vitamin E is mainly attained through the food we eat, a poor diet can be a contributor to vitamin E deficiency. Diets lacking fruits, vegetables, and vegetable oils can result in the loss of this essential nutrient.

Fat Malabsorption

Aside from poor diet, issues with metabolism and fat malabsorption can also cause vitamin E deficiencies. Because vitamin E requires fat in order to be absorbed, conditions that interfere with fat absorption can stop the body from absorbing enough of the nutrient. Other health conditions like Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and short bowel syndrome can also lead to vitamin E deficiency.

Premature/ Underweight Infants

Premature and underweight infants are also at risk for vitamin E deficiency. Underdeveloped digestive tracks can interfere with the absorption of fat and vitamin E. Vitamin E deficiencies in infants can lead to more serious conditions like hemolytic anemia.

Vitamin E deficiency can result in damage to the nerves, muscles and immune system, all of which can disrupt a number of the body’s normal functions. Without proper absorption of this fat-soluble nutrient, more serious health concerns can persist.

Foods That Are High in Vitamin C

Although vitamin E is a popular supplement, the best sources of this nutrient can be found in our diet. Vitamin E can be found in a wide variety of foods. These foods include:

  • Olive Oil
  • Wild-Caught Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Mango
  • Kiwi
  • Organic Milk
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Avocado
  • Butternut Squash
  • Red Sweet Pepper
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries

Citations and Sources

1.
Vitamin E Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National institute of Health . https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/. Published August 17, 2018. Accessed January 15, 2019.
2.
Tsutsui H, Kinugawa S, Matsushima S. Oxidative stress and heart failure. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2011;301(6):H2181-90. [PubMed]
3.
Sen C, Khanna S, Roy S. Tocotrienol: the natural vitamin E to defend the nervous system? Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004;1031:127-142. [PubMed]
4.
Moriguchi S, Muraga M. Vitamin E and immunity. Vitam Horm. 2000;59:305-336. [PubMed]
5.
Keen M, Hassan I. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2016;7(4):311-315. [PMC]