Vitamin E benefits abound, although recent press might have you think otherwise.
In nature, the term vitamin E encompasses a complex of vitamins comprised of eight compounds called tocopherols and tocotrienols.
Vitamin E earns a reputation as one of the most important antioxidants by nutritional medicine experts like Ray Strand, MD, James Duke, PhD, and Andrew Weil, MD. It’s a key nutrient for natural healing and health.
Here’s a list of vitamin E benefits based on information gathered from these experts as well as reports from ConsumerLab.com:
- Works with other antioxidants to fight free radicals that cause oxidative stress (a culprit in accelerated aging and life-sapping, degenerative disease).
- Its fat-soluble characteristic makes it the most important antioxidant within the cell membrane where it complements vitamin C, a water-soluble antioxidant that works best in the fluid substance outside of the cell (plasma).
- Prevents oxidation of LDL cholesterol, the most damaging type of cholesterol linked to heart disease.
- Contributes to the structural and functional maintenance of skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle.
- Assists in the formation of red blood cells and helps to maintain stores of vitamins A and K, iron, and selenium.
- May protect against heart attack and stroke.
- Reduces insulin resistance and improves diabetes control.
- May help fight off cancer including lung, bladder, stomach, mouth, throat, laryngeal, liver, and prostate.
- Has an anticoagulant effect similar to aspirin as it reduces platelet aggregation.
- Boosts immune function, particularly noted in the elderly.
- May help tardive dyskinesia (involuntary muscle movements due to certain medication side effects).
- Reduces the chance of preeclampsia for high-risk pregnant moms when given with vitamin C.
- May reduce menstrual pain in those with dysmenorrhea.
- May help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
May improve low sperm count (infertility).
- May reduce irregular heart beats in people with cardiac autonomic neuropathy.
Some physicians question vitamin E benefits related to its medicinal use because recent large, scientifically controlled studies failed to find the same vitamin E benefits for heart disease and cancer that many previous observational studies found.
Nutritional medicine experts shine light on two key challenges that may contribute to these confusing research findings: study of isolated nutrients and study participant selection.
Study of isolated nutrients. Researchers study nutrients similar to how they study drugs, one nutrient at a time. The problem is that nutrients like vitamin E (an antioxidant) accomplish their benefits by working together with other nutrients. “All the antioxidants need the so called antioxidant minerals, and B cofactors available in all their enzymatic reactions to do their job,” says Strand.
Study participant selection. The HOPE-TOO study published in the 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association sparked the recent vitamin E benefits controversy.
Weil and Jeffrey Blumberg, Director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University provide an analysis of this study on Weil’s website.
Blumberg says the study’s results indicating that vitamin E had “no clear impact” on the numbers of deaths from cancer or heart disease or cardiovascular disorders was of no surprise to him since study participants already had some form of heart disease or diabetes before entering the study and were taking a number of drugs.
“It would be hard for any single vitamin to have a strong, independent effect when combined in a study with multiple drugs for treatment of heart-related problems, including several that provide similar actions to vitamin E,” reports Blumberg.
“Vitamin E may not be a worthwhile treatment to add to other drugs for those who already have heart disease, but that doesn’t mean that healthy people should stop taking it. We know that vitamin E is an antioxidant, capable of combating the oxidative stress that contributes to heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease,” concludes Weil.
How much E do you need for vitamin E benefits?
You can get vitamin E benefits from lots of foods: sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, olive oil, grains, seeds, nuts, and fruits, as well as fatty parts of meats. The recommended adult daily allowance (RDA) is 30 IUs.
“Foods are almost always a better choice than supplements, and whole, fresh foods are more beneficial than processed,” says James Duke, author and former chief of the Medicinal Plant Resources Laboratory. However, surveys show that most of us don’t meet dietary recommendations.
To protect against oxidative stress Strand and Weil recommend supplementing your diet with 400 to 800 IUs of natural vitamin E daily as a part of optimal cellular nutrition.
Strand recommends the natural forms, d-alpha-tocopherol and gamma-tocopherol. Weil recommends the whole vitamin E complex including mixed tocopherols and mixed tocotrienols. If you can’t find both, he recommends mixed natural tocopherols.
Avoid the synthetic form “dl-alpha-tocopherol” as it may actually inhibit natural vitamin E from entering the cell membrane according to Strand.
Vitamin E’s synthetic form (has “dl” in the name instead of “d”) can have other bad effects too. “When a ‘natural’ vitamin E product is incorrectly labeled and actually made from synthetic vitamin E, a person taking very high doses of vitamin E could find themselves exceeding the upper level without realizing it,” according to the ConsumerLab.com.
The most serious problem in taking vitamin E is that it can potentially cause bleeding when taken in high doses. ConsumerLab.com provides recommended upper limits (UL) of vitamin E. Only use dosages above these levels when under the supervision of a physician:
- Ages 1 to 3 the UL is 200 mg/day
- Ages 4 to 8 the UL is 300 mg/day
- Ages 9 to 13 the UL is 600 mg/day
- Ages 14 to 18 the UL is 800 mg/day
- Ages 19 and over the UL is 1000 mg/day
Take vitamin E with a meal containing some fat, as it is fat-soluble. It loses its potency when exposed to light and high temperature so store it in a dark bottle in a dry, cool place.
Special Considerations for Vitamin E Benefits
Consult with your health provider before taking vitamin E if you are on medication or have a medical condition and particularly when taking these medications:
- Aspirin or blood thinners (anticoagulants) since vitamin E has an anticoagulant effect as well.
- Cholesterol lowering drugs (statins) since large amounts of vitamin E can lower their effectiveness.
- Chemotherapy agents since these drugs may act in part by creating free radicals that destroy cancer cells and antioxidants fight free radicals.
Like all antioxidants, vitamin E plays a mighty role in fighting free radicals and oxidative stress that lead to accelerated aging and chronic disease.
Although it has many proven benefits, more research incorporating this article’s information may help clarify question’s regarding its medicinal use.
If you have a medical condition or are on medications, consult with your doctor for vitamin E’s role in your treatment plan. Most of all, be well informed and apply vitamin E benefits to meet your unique health needs.
Andrew Weil at http://www.DrWeil.com.
ConsumerLab at http://www.ConsumerLab.com
James A. Duke, The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns (Rodalestore.com: Rodale, 2008).
Ray D. Strand, Bionutrition: The Medical Evidence that Demands a Verdict—Should you be taking Nutritional Supplements? (Rapid City, SD: Health Concepts, 2009).