What is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E is a term for a group of fat-soluble compounds with various antioxidant properties. This vitamin is a natural component in food, but it is also available as a dietary supplement. In its natural form, vitamin E has eight different chemical forms, each with its own biological activity level (x).
Vitamin E is rich in antioxidants that play a crucial role in protecting cells from the harmful effects of free radicals, which damage cells and may cause various health problems, including cancer and heart disease. People are exposed to free radicals from the environment, including UV rays from the sun, cigarette smoke and environmental pollution. When the body converts food to energy, it produces reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage cells in the body. Antioxidants help to protect human cells from damage (x).
Benefits of Vitamin E
Vitamin E Deficiency
Some of the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include retinopathy, skeletal myopathy, ataxia, neuropathy and immune system damage. Older adults with vitamin E deficiency are particularly at risk for problems with the immune system. It may also cause muscle weakness, difficulty with movement and coordination and vision deterioration. Deficiency also causes neuron degeneration and affects the ability to transmit signals in the body.
When neurons deteriorate, it often causes numbness and tingling sensations in the body, a phenomenon called peripheral neuropathy (x). In addition, vitamin E deficiency may cause vision problems or even blindness if an individual remains deficient for a prolonged period of time.
Health Conditions with Vitamin E Deficiency
The human digestive system requires fat to absorb vitamin E. Therefore, deficiency is common in people with fat malabsorption disorders (x). Conditions such as Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis may interfere with fat-soluble vitamin E absorption (x).
Patients with abetalipoproteinemia also often suffer from vitamin E deficiency because the digestive tract does not absorb dietary fat properly (x). Therefore, patients often need to include supplements in their diets. Some of the symptoms associated with abetalipoproteinemia include weak muscles, retinal degeneration and poor nerve impulse transmission.
Ataxia is a rare inherited disorder that affects the liver and prevents it from processing vitamin E. This condition causes severe nerve damage and interferes with mobility (x).
The human brain has high concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids and a high oxygen consumption rate. Research indicates that with time, free radicals may cause damage that may lead to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia (x). Therefore, ingesting vitamin E supplements may provide some level of protection from free radical damage and delay neurological deterioration.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps keep the skin healthy and moisturized. It helps fight off infections and promote wound healing (x). Animal studies also suggest that vitamin E supplements may help protect the body from skin cancer. However, researchers have not drawn conclusions on whether it is effective for humans (x). Because it helps moisturize the skin, it can also benefit skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, possibly reducing symptoms and making other topical treatments more effective (x, x).
Speeding up skin healing can also help treat acne and heal scars because moisturized skin may be less likely to scar (x, x). It can also help strengthen hair by promoting blood circulation in the scalp. In addition, it helps the skin around the scalp retain moisture, which may help prevent dandruff or hair loss (x).
Vision problems may be associated with oxidative stress and studies state that vitamin E may lower the risk of age-related disorders such as macular degeneration (x). However, the study also paired it with vitamin C, zinc and beta-carotene to increase efficacy. Medical researchers also claim that the dietary supplement may help prevent cataracts, but there is not enough research to come to a definite conclusion (x).
In addition, vitamin E stimulates hormone production. For example, it is associated with the hormone prostaglandin, a compound that regulates a wide range of bodily processes including muscle contraction and blood circulation (x). This relationship also helps reduce inflammation in the body. Hormonal balance is essential to proper endocrine and nervous system function. Hormonal imbalance may increase the risk of various symptoms including weight gain, urinary tract infections, anxiety and allergies (x).
Because it relates to inflammation, prostaglandin also triggers menstrual symptoms, including dysmenorrhea, or painful period cramps. Patients with higher prostaglandin levels in the body may experience more pain (x). In addition, it can also decrease the severity and duration of menses pain. Vitamin E can minimize other PMS symptoms, such as cramps, anxiety and changes in mood. The vitamin balances hormones naturally, which helps regulate the menstrual cycle.
It also promotes muscle repair and keeps the muscles healthy. Research states that patients who do not consume enough vitamin E in their diets are more likely to develop weaker muscles, especially elderly patients. Medical researchers claim that because it is fat-soluble, vitamin E inserts itself into cell membranes to interfere with free radicals. From there, it regulates phospholipids in the membrane so that it can repair itself (x).
Vitamin E may also potentially prevent or delay heart disease by interfering with cholesterol oxidation, which plays an essential role in hormone and nerve functioning. When cholesterol levels get too high, it can cause damage to the body, including the heart. But its antioxidant properties may help prevent cholesterol oxidation and even prevent blood clots (x).
Side Effects of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is safe for most patients as a supplement. Adverse side effects are highly unlikely if the patient takes safe dosages. However, in high doses it may cause nausea, bleeding, stomach pain, flatulence, diarrhea, headaches and blurred vision. Long-term use may cause liver damage and weak muscles and may also interfere with heart function. It does not cause severe side effects from drug interactions, but it may cause moderate side effects with iron sucrose, ferrous sulfate, polysaccharide iron and vortioxetine (x).
Taking the daily-recommended dosage of vitamin E is generally safe during pregnancy. Medical researchers also state that it is safe for breastfeeding, since it is present in breast milk. Avoid high doses for at least one month before a scheduled surgery. It may cause adverse interactions in patients with vitamin K deficiency, bleeding propensity, stomach ulcers and hemophilia (x).
Dosage Instructions for Vitamin E
The recommended dosage for vitamin E powder is 500 to 1,000 mg (¼ tsp to ⅓ tsp) daily with meals. Consult a doctor before taking this supplement to ensure safety and to avoid any interactions with other supplements or medications.
Why Take Vitamin E
People take vitamin E supplements for many different reasons. First, it is rich in antioxidants, which help rid the body of toxins that can damage healthy cells. Deficiency affects the immune system and may also cause vision and nervous system disorders (x). Research associates it with cognitive health as well and it may be an effective agent to address neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease (x).
Patients with vitamin E deficiency often lose a great deal of muscular function with age. It may help delay muscular and skeletal deterioration, boost energy levels and reduce muscle strain from oxidation. It may also strengthen capillaries and promote proper blood circulation.
Vitamin E plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy skin. It strengthens capillaries under the skin, which helps improve moisture and elasticity. Therefore, it may have effective anti-aging effects on the skin. It minimizes inflammation in the body and also balances hormones, which helps the endocrine and nervous systems function properly.
Food Sources of Vitamin E
Apart from supplements, vitamin E is available in various foods including vegetable oils, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, seeds, spinach, broccoli, mango, avocado, pumpkin and asparagus. Consuming this vitamin in food does not have any adverse side effects and deficiency is rare. However, many patients may use vitamin supplements if these foods are not available or if a doctor prescribes them (x).
The Bottom Line
Vitamin E is a collective group of fat-soluble compounds rich in antioxidants. An antioxidant’s primary function is to protect cells from harm. Apart from its antioxidant properties, vitamin E has many other health benefits including promoting vision and cardiac health. It also helps promote wound healing, potentially helping treat acne, eczema and psoriasis. Generally, it is safe in its supplement form and it usually does not cause any severe side effects in proper doses. It is present in many different foods, including vegetable oils, seeds and nuts, so deficiency is rare, but supplements can help patients ensure a healthy, consistent dosage.