Vitamin E Benefits, Foods & Side Effects
What if I told you there was a vitamin that plays the role of antioxidant, preventing free radical damage to specific fats in the body that are critical for your health and naturally slowing aging? I’m talking about vitamin E, and believe it or not, vitamin E benefits don’t end there. Other vitamin E benefits include its role as an important fat-soluble vitamin that’s required for the proper function of many organs, enzymatic activities and neurological processes.
Benefits of consuming more vitamin E-rich foods can include treating and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels, such as chest pains, high blood pressure, and blocked or hardened arteries. Vitamin E is found only in plant foods, including certain oils, nuts, grains, fruits and wheat germ. It’s also available as a supplement.
So let’s find out how you can get all these great vitamin E benefits, along with the best vitamin E foods, supplements and the signs of a vitamin E deficiency.
Top 11 Vitamin E Benefits
What are the top vitamin E benefits? Supplementing and consuming vitamin E-rich foods has been found to be associated with some of the following health benefits:
1. Balances Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance made by the liver and required by the body for the proper function of your cells, nerves and hormones. When cholesterol levels are in their natural state, they’re balanced, normal and healthy. When cholesterol oxidizes, it becomes dangerous. Studies have shown that certain isomers of vitamin E serve as a protective antioxidant that fights cholesterol oxidation. (1) This is because they can fight free radical damage in the body, which leads to cholesterol oxidation.
Tocotrienol isomers of vitamin E have three double bonds that positively impact cardiovascular health due to their ability to reduce activity of an enzyme that controls cholesterol production/synthesis (called HMG-CoA reductase). Tocotrienol isomers can also prevent cell adhesion and therefore slow down progression of atherosclerosis, or hardening/thickening of the arteries. It’s important to note synthetic vitamin E doesn’t seem to have the same benefits of natural forms. Too much alpha-tocopherol can actually interfere with the cholesterol-lowering action of delta and gamma-tocotrienols, which are the two most bioactive tocotrienols and the types linked to cardioprotective activities.
2. Fights Free Radicals and Prevents Disease Development
Free radicals fight and break down the healthy cells in your body, and this can lead to heart disease and cancer. These molecules form naturally in your body, and they can cause severe damage when they accelerate or oxidize. Certain isomers of vitamin E have powerful antioxidant abilities that have the power to reduce free radical damage, fight inflammation, and therefore help naturally slow aging in your cells and fight off health issues like heart disease. (2)
Studies have shown that these can significantly increase immunity, therefore helping prevent both common illnesses and serious conditions from forming. (3) Recent research suggests that for immune enhancement and antioxidant effects, the isomers alpha-tocotrienol, gamma-tocotrienol and to a lesser degree delta-tocotrienol seem to be the most effective.
3. Repairs Damaged Skin
Vitamin E benefits skin by strengthening the capillary walls and improving moisture and elasticity, acting as a natural anti-aging nutrient within your body. Studies have shown that vitamin E reduces inflammation both within your body and on your skin, helping maintain healthy, youthful skin. (4) These antioxidant properties are also helpful when you’re exposed to cigarette smoke or ultraviolet rays from sunlight, protecting against skin cancer.
Taking vitamin E with vitamin C fights skin inflammation after exposure to UV radiation and can also be useful in decreasing signs of acne and eczema. Vitamin E also helps the healing process in the skin. It’s absorbed by the epidermis layer of the skin and can be used to treat sunburn, which is one of the leading causes of skin cancer, among other factors. Because it speeds up cell regeneration, it can be used to treat scars, acne and wrinkles; this makes your skin look healthier and younger.
Because vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, it helps decrease environmental damage to your hair. It can also promote circulation to the scalp. Vitamin E oil can retain the natural moisture in your skin, which helps your scalp from becoming dry and flakey. This oil also makes your hair look healthier and fresher. You can apply a few drops of vitamin E oil on your hair, especially if it looks dry and dull.
5. Balances Hormones
Vitamin E can play a crucial role in balancing your endocrine and nervous systems, naturally working to balance hormones naturally. (5) Symptoms of a hormonal imbalance may include PMS, weight gain, allergies, urinary tract infections, changes in the skin, anxiety and fatigue. By keeping your hormones in balance, you will find it easier to maintain a healthy weight, keep a regular menstrual cycle and find yourself feeling more energetic.
6. Helps PMS Symptoms
Taking a vitamin E supplement two to three days before and two to three days after a menstrual period can reduce the cramping, anxiety and cravings and other PMS symptoms. Vitamin E can decrease pain severity and duration, and it can reduce menstrual blood loss. It does this by balancing your hormones naturally, and it helps keep your menstrual cycle regulated.
7. Improves Vision
Vitamin E may help decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration, which is a common cause of blindness. Keep in mind, in order for vitamin E to be effective for vision, it must also be consumed with adequate intakes of vitamin C, beta-carotene and zinc. It’s also been found that taking high doses of vitamin E and vitamin A daily seems to improve healing and vision in people undergoing laser eye surgery.
8. Helps People with Alzheimer’s Disease
Research shows that the anti-inflammatory activity of tocotrienols contribute to their protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin E may slow down the worsening of memory loss and functional decline in people with moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease or other neurodegenerative disorders. It may also delay the loss of independence and the need for a caregiver or assistance. Vitamin E, taken with vitamin C, can also decrease the risk of developing several forms of dementia.(6)
9. May Lower Cancer Risk and Improve Effects of Medical Treatments
Vitamin E is sometimes used to lessen the harmful effects of medical treatments, such as radiation and dialysis for treating cancer. This is because it’s a powerful antioxidant that fights off free radicals in the body. It’s also used to reduce unwanted side effects of drugs that may cause hair loss or lung damage.
Certain isomers of vitamin E have also been tied to cancer protection. Several animal studies have found evidence of suppression of tumor growth using oral doses of tocotrienols. While there’s more to learn about how exactly this works, several mechanisms of action are thought to be by tocotrienols, inducing cancer cell death, turning off genes tied to cancer and inhibiting angiogenesis, or the abnormal growth of blood vessels inside a tumor. In animal studies, cancer-protective abilities have been demonstrated in cases of breast, prostate, hepatic and skin cancers.
10. Improves Physical Endurance and Muscle Strength
Vitamin E can be used to improve your physical endurance. It can increase your energy and reduce the level of oxidative stress on your muscles after you exercise. (7) Vitamin E can also improve your muscle strength. It eliminates fatigue by promoting blood circulation and can also strengthen your capillary walls and nourish your cells.
11. Important During Pregnancy for Growth and Development
Vitamin E is critical during pregnancy and for proper development in infants and children because it protects critical fatty acids and helps control inflammation. Some experts believe that the biggest need for vitamin E is during the 1,000-day window that begins at conception, since vitamin E impacts early stages of neurologic and brain development that can only happen during this one specific period. Because of this, it’s recommended that pregnant women, nursing mothers and children up until the age of 2 take a natural, food-based supplement to make sure they’re getting enough to prevent abnormalities.
Vitamin E Foods
Most people aren’t aware that “vitamin E” is a collective description for eight compounds, four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Getting enough vitamin E seems to be especially critical for the very young (fetuses or infants), the elderly, and women who are or may become pregnant. According to the USDA, the recommended daily allowance for collective vitamin E is 15 milligrams per day (or 22.5 IU) for adults. (8) I recommend consuming two to three of these vitamin E foods daily to meet your needs:
- Sunflower Seeds: 1 cup — 33.41 milligrams (220 percent)
- Almonds: 1 cup — 32.98 milligrams (218 percent)
- Hazelnuts: 1 cup — 20.29 milligrams (133 percent)
- Wheat Germ: 1 cup plain, uncooked — 18 milligrams (120 percent)
- Mango: 1 whole raw — 3.02 milligrams (20 percent)
- Avocado: One whole raw — 2.68 milligrams (18 percent)
- Butternut Squash: 1 cup cooked and cubed squash — 2.64 milligrams (17 percent)
- Broccoli: 1 cup cooked — 2.4 milligrams (12 percent)
- Spinach: ½ cup cooked or about 2 cups uncooked — 1.9 milligrams (10 percent)
- Kiwi: 1 medium — 1.1 milligrams (6 percent)
- Tomato: 1 raw — 0.7 milligram (4 percent)
Different Forms of Vitamin E
There are eight major isomers of vitamin E. Most of the health benefits of vitamin E described above come from studies involving only form of vitamin E called alpha-tocopherol, which is only one of eight forms. Recently, researchers have focused more attention on other forms of vitamin E as well, with particular focus on tocotrienol, which some consider the “the 21st century vitamin E.” (9) Alpha- and beta-tocotrienols have been found to be the least active forms overall, while delta- and gamma-tocotrienols are the most active. Recent findings suggest that it’s not that alpha-tocopherol is harmful, but it may interfere with absorption of other forms of vitamin E, including other tocopherols and tocotrienols that are needed for heart and cognitive health. (10)
According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: (11)
“Vitamin E is actually composed of two structurally similar compounds, tocopherols and tocotrienols. Each compound is comprised of four components, each of which has distinct molecular structures. Each component is referred to as an isomer (or vitamer) of vitamin E. Each isomer of vitamin E has unique properties, health benefits, characteristics, and attributes, with important applications when formulating food or beverage products.”
Given the benefits of different vitamin E isomers that have been discovered, today there’s a push to rethink the way that vitamin E is labeled and described in research studies. When only form of vitamin E is studied (usually only the isomer alpha-tocopherol), many believe that any benefits revealed from the study should not be attributed to “vitamin E” given that without the other isomers it’s not actually vitamin E in its full form that’s being studied. Steps are also being taken to educate the public about benefits specifically associated with tocotrienols isomers, which include protection against a wide range of common, chronic diseases due to having unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential. (12) Tocotrienols have also been found to have anticancer and anti-tumor abilities, lipid and cholesterol-lowering effects, and protective effects that impact the brain, neurons, cells and immune system. (13, 14)
So what does all of this mean regarding the types of vitamin E in your diet? It’s best to get a variety of vitamin E isomers from your diet, given that different types have different benefits. Tocotrienols have proved to contain some exceptional benefits that are not shared by other forms. Today, the brightest spot for tocotrienol research is in chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer and osteopenia/osteoporosis. Sources of tocotrienols are not as widely available or popular in most people’s diets however. These include annatto seed, coconut, barley, or commercially extracted palm oil and rice bran oil.
Finally, it’s also best to obtain vitamin E naturally from foods, rather than getting synthetic vitamin E from low-quality supplements or processed foods, which is usually in the form of either gamma-tocopherol or alpha-tocopherol. The vast majority of synthetic vitamin E found in supplements is not the type that’s actually found in nature and not necessarily helpful for preventing disease and boosting health. That’s why the best way to get vitamin E benefits is by consuming natural vitamin E foods.
How to Get Enough of the Different Vitamin E Isomers (Including Tocotrienols):
Most food sources in the typical person’s diet are high in vitamin E isomers like gamma-tocopherol and to a lesser degree alpha-tocopherol. This is especially true of oils derived from major crops like soybean, corn, cottonseed and sesame seed, which provide about 80 percent of the vitamin E isomers most people in the U.S. get from their diets. These oils contain between three to five times as much gamma-tocopherol compared alpha.
As mentioned above, it’s harder to get tocotrienols from your diet, as sources are far less common or available. The Linus Pauling Institute recommends aiming for small amounts of tocotrienol vitamin E near 140 milligrams/day, with an average effective dose for immune protection and other benefits considered to be between 200–400 milligrams/day. Here are tips on finding the best sources:
- Although it’s very hard to find at this time, the seed of the annatto tree (Bixa orellana), which is a tropical plant, contains very high levels of tocotrienols, of which 90 percent are delta-tocotrienol and 10 percent gamma-tocotrienol.
- Other good sources are rice oil, palm oil and rice bran oil, along with peanuts, pecans and walnuts.
- Some others that are more common include oats, rye and barley cereal grains, although these don’t have as much as other, rarer sources.
- If you’re looking to increase the amount of all isomers vitamin E that you’re consuming in a day, there are lots of ways to get creative using these foods. Try adding nuts or seeds to your cereal, oatmeal or salad. You can also snack on raw nuts or make your own grain-free granola.
- Add a boost of vitamin E to your lunch or dinner by having a spinach or kale salad; add in tomatoes or even fresh fruit like papaya.
- If you’re looking to have a healthy, vitamin E-heavy snack, try a sliced apple with peanut butter or smashed avocado on whole grain sprouted toast.
- Another easy way to get some vitamin E benefits from your diet is to add just a tablespoon of wheat germ oil to any recipe.
Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin E
The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin E (including different isomers), according to the USDA, includes the amount you get from both the food that you eat and any supplements you take. The daily intake is measured in milligrams (mg) and international units (IU). Recommendations for different age groups are listed below:
- 1–3 years: 6 mg/day (9 IU)
- 4–8 years: 7 mg/day (10.4 IU)
- 9–13 years: 11 mg/day (16.4 IU)
- 14 years and up: 15 mg/day (22.4 IU)
- Pregnant: 15 mg/day (22.4 IU)
- Breast-feeding: 19 mg/day (28.5 IU)
- 14 years and up: 15 mg/day (22.4 IU)
The tolerable upper intake levels are the highest amount of a vitamin that most people can take safely. These high doses can be used to treat a vitamin E deficiency, and it’s important to speak to a doctor before taking more than these upper intake levels.
- 1–3 years: 200 mg/day (300 IU)
- 4–8 years: 300 mg/day (450 IU)
- 9–13 years: 600 mg/day (900 IU)
- 14–18 years: 800 mg/day (1,200 IU)
- 18 years and up: 1,000 mg/day (1,500 IU)
Keep in mind that because vitamin E is fat-soluble, supplements work best when they’re absorbed with food, and the American Heart Association recommends obtaining antioxidants, including vitamin E, by eating a healthy and well-balanced diet that’s high in fruits, veggies and whole grains. Getting your vitamins from the food you eat is always a better alternative than using a supplement because it’s difficult to over-consume vitamin E when getting it from your regular diet.
Vitamin E Deficiency Symptoms
Vitamin E deficiencies (meaning intake of all isomers) have long been thought to be rare, and when they do happen, it’s commonly believed that it’s almost never caused by a poor diet. However, some experts believe that many people today are actually not getting enough vitamin E from their diets in natural form, especially too little tocotrienols.
There are specific situations that may lead to a vitamin E deficiency due to malfunctions in terms of how nutrients are absorbed. A premature infant who is born weighing less than 3.5 pounds is in danger of a vitamin E deficiency, but a pediatrician who specializes in the care of newborns will typically evaluate the nutritional needs of an infant to help spot and treat this early. People with fat absorption problems, which is a common problem for those who struggle with inflammatory bowel disease, may also struggle with a vitamin E deficiency in some cases.
People who have an issue with their dietary fat levels are at an increased risk because as mentioned above, fat is needed for the absorption of vitamin E. This includes anyone who has been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, has had gastric bypass surgery, or people with malabsorption problems, such as Crohn’s disease, liver disease or pancreatic insufficiency. Deficiency symptoms include loss of muscle coordination and impaired vision and speech.
Vitamin E Side Effects
Vitamin E benefits most healthy people when taken by mouth or applied directly to the skin. Most people do not experience any side effects when taking the recommended dose, but in high doses there are adverse reactions that have been recorded. Vitamin E may be unsafe when taken in very high amounts, especially for people who have conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. If you suffer from these health issues, do not take doses of 400 IU/day or more.
Some studies show that taking high doses of vitamin E, which is between 300–800 IU each day, might increase the chance of having a serious stroke called hemorrhagic stroke by 22 percent. One serious side effect of too much vitamin E is an increased risk of bleeding, especially in the brain.
Avoid taking supplements containing vitamin E or any other antioxidant vitamins immediately before and following angioplasty, a type of heart procedure. These vitamins seem to interfere with proper healing, so speak to your health care professional if you’re undergoing this kind of procedure and taking any supplements/vitamins.
Supplementing with very high levels of vitamin E could potentially lead to the following health concerns:
- heart failure in people with diabetes
- worsening bleeding disorders
- increasing the chances that head, neck and prostate cancer will return
- increasing bleeding during and after surgery
- increasing chance of death after a heart attack or stroke
One study found that vitamin E supplements can also be harmful to women who are in the early stages of pregnancy. Women who took vitamin E supplements during their first eight weeks of pregnancy showed an increase of congenital heart defects. (15) High doses of vitamin E can also sometimes lead to nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fatigue, weakness, headache, blurred vision, rash, bruising and bleeding. Topical vitamin E can irritate some people’s skin, so try a small amount first and make sure you don’t have a sensitivity.
Relationship with Other Nutrients and Interactions
Vitamin E supplements can slow down blood clotting, and when you use medications that also slow clotting, you may increase the chances of bruising and bleeding. Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin, clopidogrel, ibuprofen and warfarin. Warfarin (Coumadin), in particular, is used to slow blood clotting. Taking vitamin E with warfarin can increase your chances of bruising and bleeding, so be sure to have your blood checked regularly in order to regulate your dosing.
Medications that are used for lowering cholesterol may also interact with vitamin E. It’s not known if taking vitamin E alone decreases the effectiveness of some cholesterol-lowering medications, but it does seem to affect cholesterol when taken with beta-carotene, vitamin C and selenium.
Final Thoughts on Vitamin E Benefits
- Vitamin E benefits the body by playing the role of an antioxidant. As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin E benefits include its role in proper function of many organs, enzymatic activities and neurological processes.
- Vitamin E is a collective description for eight compounds, four tocopherols and four tocotrienols, and they provide different vitamin E benefits. It’s best to get a variety of vitamin E isomers from your diet, given that different types have different benefits.
- Vitamin E benefits include balancing cholesterol, fighting free radicals, preventing disease development, repairing damaged skin, thickening hair, balancing hormones, helping PMS symptoms, improving vision, helping people with Alzheimer’s, potentially lowering cancer risk and improving effects of medical treatments, and boosting physical endurance and muscle strength.
- Vitamin E is found only in plant foods, including certain oils, nuts, grains, fruits and wheat germ. It’s also available as a supplement. Some of the top vitamin E foods you can eat to get these vitamin E benefits include sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, wheat germ, mango, avocado, butternut squash, broccoli, spinach, kiwi and tomato.
- Vitamin E benefits the mother and child during pregnancy as well, as it’s a vital vitamin for growth and development.
- Vitamin E deficiency symptoms include include loss of muscle coordination and impaired vision and speech.
- Vitamin E may be unsafe when taken in very high amounts, especially for people who have conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. If you suffer from these health issues, do not take doses of 400 IU/day or more.
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