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Practical Vitamin E Health Benefits

Vitamin E health benefits don’t stop with improving hair and skin texture. The protective actions of vitamin E are many. This article covers the general health benefits of vitamin E as well as the more condition-specific actions of this compound.

What Is Vitamin E?

vitamin E health benefits can be found in nutsNaturally occurring vitamin E is not actually a single compound. It is a collection of eight fat-soluble compounds. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored by the body for a time and retrieved for use later. Of the eight compounds, four are tocopherol isoforms and four are tocotrienol isoforms.

One of the tocopherol isoforms – alpha-tocopherol – is the one that the human body needs and uses the most. Alpha-tocopherol is the compound referred to in this article when discussing vitamin E health benefits, though we will also cover some new and exciting research into the tocotrienol isoforms.

It is found in the liver incorporated into lipoproteins that transport it through the blood to other tissues in the body. Lipoproteins are compounds composed of fats and proteins that transport fat through the blood. For example, LDL is the lipoprotein that transports cholesterol from the liver to the tissues, and that is why it is associated with heart disease.

Vitamin E: Top Antioxidant

The prominent beneficial action of vitamin E is its antioxidant activity. For example, fats in the body can be damaged through lipid peroxidation from free radicals, but vitamin E neutralizes the free radicals and stops lipid oxidation.

Free radicals, which are also called reactive oxygen species, are unstable molecules that are missing an electron, and so as they travel through the body, they begin stealing these missing electrons from other molecules, destabilizing these molecules and turning them into free radicals as well. When this keeps repeating, you get oxidative stress and oxidative damage.

Although your body creates free radicals naturally when converting food to energy, and you are constantly exposed to free radicals from your environment, from air pollution, from first-hand or second-hand cigarette smoke, and from UV radiation from the sun, if your system doesn’t have enough antioxidants to deal with these free radicals, the oxidative stress begins to accumulate and it runs the risk of damaging your cells.

Oxidative stress has been associated with inflammation, chronic disease, neurodegeneration, adrenal fatigue, and different types of cancers. It’s also one of the main factors in premature aging and age-related disorders. That’s why a focus of anti-aging and regenerative medicine is on reducing oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant activity in the body.

Antioxidants are compounds that can lend electrons to free radicals and therefore stabilize them in the process, and some of the more well-known ones are vitamin C, glutathione and vitamin E. One of the vitamin E health benefits is that it’s a fat-soluble antioxidant, so it can help stop the formation of free radicals when fat is oxidized.

It’s interesting to note that, although the antioxidant properties of vitamin E are important to counteract the oxidation of adipose tissue, they’re even more important when it comes to your cells’ bio-membranes. Your cells’ bio-membranes are made up of phosphate groups on the outside and lipids on the inside, and if these lipids on the inside begin to oxidize, the health risks are quite significant. This is even more so if the DNA inside also begins to oxidize. Half of the lipids in your body are located in the lining of your cell walls, and 95% of the antioxidants that protect these cell membranes are vitamin E.

Vitamin E Deficiency

An image of foods to help with vitamin E deficiencySerious vitamin E deficiency is quite rare. It can be caused by malnutrition or genetic defects that interfere with the transportation of fat-soluble compounds. People with fat malabsorption syndromes (where the body has a difficult time absorbing fats) are at risk for vitamin E deficiency, such as those with celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, those who have had their gallbladders removed, those with chronic pancreatitis, and those with cholestatic liver disease.

Because neurons, like other cells, are encapsulated in lipid sheaths, a lack of vitamin E can impact these sheaths, allowing the lipid to oxidize and creating a lot of neurological problems. As you’ll see, most signs and symptoms of vitamin E deficiency are related to a deterioration in the functions of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Some of these symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include:

  • Muscle weakness. That’s because vitamin E is needed for the CNS to function properly, which can lead to the muscles getting weaker.
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities. This is a type of neuropathy that is a result of nerve damage, where the nerves don’t signal accurately. This is also common in those with diabetes.
  • Difficulty with walking and coordination. Nerve damage, specifically to Purkinje neurons, creates difficulty with coordinating movement, such as walking.
  • Problems with vision. Again, as the eye is part of the nervous system and vitamin E deficiency affects the nerve cells, the light receptors in the retina can cause vision to gradually deteriorate.

Vitamin E deficiency can also affect the immune system, lowering its function, which can open you up to more frequent infections, longer healing time, and the accumulation of dead and damaged cells in your system. This is especially problematic for those with already weakened immune systems, such as those with adrenal fatigue, older adults, and those on immunosuppressant medications.

Children are at higher risk for developing complications from vitamin E deficiency than adults, because they can develop a health condition that interferes with its absorption later in life. Newborns with lower birth weight and those born prematurely are also at risk of vitamin E deficiency, and in some cases, this can lead to hemolytic anemia.

Smoking can increase the risk of developing a deficiency as it uses up vitamin E to fight off higher levels of free radicals. Those on very low-fat diets may also be more at risk. Though severe deficiency is rare, mild deficiency is very common and does not seem to carry serious risks for most adults.

If you suspect you or your child may have a deficiency, it’s a good idea to go see your doctor, who may suggest taking a supplement so you can reduce the risks as well as get the full vitamin E health benefits that a supplement can provide.

Top Sources of Vitamin E

Vitamin E health benefits can be reaped through eating a healthy diet, as it is easy to meet the recommended daily value (RDV) through food. The following are some examples of foods rich in vitamin E:

  • Wheat-germ oil. One tablespoon contains more than enough of what you need per day.
  • 100 g of Atlantic salmon has around 8% of the RDV, and 100 g of rainbow trout has around 19% of the RDV.
  • A one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds has over half of what you need per day.
  • 100 g of octopus or lobster has around 6% of the RDV.
  • One ounce of almonds has almost half of what you need per day.

Generally, most nut and seed oils have more than enough vitamin E, as do most nuts and seeds themselves. Other great sources of vitamin E include green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, boiled eggs, and vitamin E fortified foods, like many popular cereals.

The thing to remember, however, is that you shouldn’t just consume certain things because they provide enough of the vitamins and minerals you need a day, you also have to look at the full picture of your diet and see whether what the benefits of what you’re eating outweigh the harm.

For example, we generally advise against using a lot of vegetable oils as they have a higher ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, and most people need to balance that out. Also, a lot of people get their intake of vegetable oils because they cook with them, but most oils do not do well in high heat, producing more oxidative damage than the antioxidants their vitamin E content provides.

So, the best approach here is to eat a well-rounded and healthy diet without focusing on what specific nutrients each food has, and then assess what nutrient gaps your meals may have. Then you can make up for these gaps by adding a certain food or taking a supplement.

Vitamin E Supplements

Help your body stay young with vitamin e health benefitsUsed with care, supplementation can also be a way to reap vitamin E health benefits, if you are unable to get enough from your diet.

In 2000, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) antioxidant panel on food and nutrition doubled their recommendation on the daily intake of natural vitamin E to 15 mg for both men and women. Natural vitamin E is significantly more potent than the synthetic type. To make sure you don’t ingest excessive amounts, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be stored in your body’s fat for long periods of time, their upper limit is 1000 mg per day. Be very wary of taking in too much vitamin E without your doctor’s guidance.

The exact dosage of a supplement depends on what you’re using it for, and to get the vitamin E health benefits you need, you have to know what you are using vitamin E for. For example, used in prenatal vitamins, vitamin E is very important to bring a fetus to full term. A pregnant woman needs 22-30 mg a day.

It’s important to take supplements strategically, rather than using the shotgun approach, where you take many different supplements all at once thinking the combination will have the biggest impact. In some cases, like with adrenal fatigue, that can backfire and cause paradoxical reactions.

Vitamin E for Health Conditions

Other than preventing some of the risks involved in vitamin E deficiency, such as muscles weakness, vision loss, and lowered immunity, there are important vitamin E health benefits that inspired the NAS to double their daily recommendation.

Antioxidant Activity

Most of the benefits come from vitamin E’s antioxidant activity. Though many of the body’s natural functions produce free radicals for use in certain processes or as byproducts, excessive amounts of free radicals in the body cause damage. Free radicals can damage cell membranes, causing them to lose their nutrient-transporting function. Free radicals can also damage DNA, causing genetic mutations. The damage caused by free radicals can lead to many other problematic health conditions such as heart problems, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Antioxidants produced by the body or ingested can neutralize these free radicals. Antioxidants also have potent anti-aging properties, but to receive their full benefits, you would need to ingest 400 IU of vitamin E and 2000 mg of vitamin C a day. This is almost impossible through food alone, and so supplementation of both is the best option.

Vitamin E for Cholesterol

Another of the important vitamin E health benefits is that it can protect against the oxidation of cholesterol and it can balance cholesterol levels. In this case, newer studies show that the other type of isoforms, the tocotrienol isomer, is the one that has the biggest impact on cholesterol. That may be due to its action on the enzyme that controls cholesterol synthesis, called HMG-CoA reductase. Tocotrienol can also help slow down the progression of the hardening and thickening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. It does that by preventing cell adhesion.

At this point, it’s important to note that taking a combination of tocopherol and tocotrienol is not a good idea because tocopherol, which is the isomer that is more commonly used, can sometimes get in the way of tocotrienol’s activity. It can inhibit its absorption, reduce its storage in adipose tissue, and compromise its ability to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides. Tocopherol has also been shown to sometimes cause physiological problems, such as oxidizing LDL when taken in high doses, increasing the synthesis of cholesterol, and exacerbating injuries from strokes. So, if you’re interested in vitamin E health benefits for the heart and circulatory system, it’s better to look for a supplement that only contains tocotrienol isoforms.

Cancer Treatment Support

Tocotrienol has also been shown to help protect against cancer and support the body when undergoing cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, dialysis, and radiation therapy. Again, its antioxidant properties make it a powerful ally against one of the leading causes of death in the world, and it has been shown to help fight its many different forms, such as lung, breast, prostate, skin and liver cancer. Animal studies have shown its ability to inhibit tumor growth by inducing tumor apoptosis, or cell death, and reducing angiogenesis, which is the formation of blood vessels inside tumors.

In cancer patients, tocotrienol seems to mitigate the negative effects of radiation therapy, and a good choice of dosage in such cases is 300 mg twice a day. The other interesting effect tocotrienol has on cancer is on cancer stem cells. With most cancer treatments, you’re targeting differentiated cancer cells, such as breast cancer cells or pancreatic cancer cells. But there’s still around 1% of cancer stem cells that haven’t yet differentiated in the system, and there’s no specific treatment for them. Tocotrienol seems to act on those cancer stem cells.

On the other hand, tocopherols may do the opposite, increasing cancer rates of the prostate, breasts, and lungs, and even blocking the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Adrenal Fatigue

Vitamin E is an important compound for those who suffer from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), a condition where the adrenal glands and other bodily systems are unable to keep up with the body’s needs to cope with stress. Many people will develop issues over their lifetimes due to periods of chronic stress, and vitamin E can help reduce these issues somewhat.

Some of the symptoms of AFS include:

  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Lower sex drive
  • Frequent colds and flus
  • Food sensitivity
  • Difficulty with focus and memory
  • Easily gaining weight and difficulty losing it
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Allergies
  • Infertility
  • PMS
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Mild depression
  • Heart palpitations
  • Blood pressure irregularity

AFS is a result of an overstressed NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, which is a bodily system that connects several other systems in the body to respond to stressors, and has wide-reaching effects should it malfunction. The NEM systems affect the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), and adrenal fatigue can have wide-ranging effects on the functions that are controlled by the ANS. That is why AFS symptoms can be so many and so different.NEM Circuit

The NEM is made up of six circuits of organs and systems that work collectively to fight stress, and they are the Hormone, the Bioenergetics, the Cardionomic, the Neuroaffect, the Inflammation, and the Detoxification circuits. The adrenal glands are part of the Hormone circuit, and they are activated as soon as the body is exposed to any stressor.

Vitamin E deficiency is a stressor on the body; so is oxidative stress and all the issues that can arise when there isn’t enough vitamin E in the system. Any of these can trigger the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis into action, with the end result being the adrenals secreting their most potent anti-stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for many functions, including regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels, maintaining heart and blood vessel functions, suppressing the immune system once it has done its job, and neutralizing inflammation.

But cortisol should remain within a normal, “healthy” range in order for it to work with the body rather than against it. In the early stages of AFS, cortisol levels usually rise, and with them rises inflammation, oxidative stress, and other health issues. Once the adrenals are exhausted from overworking, their cortisol output drops and the body is left to fight stress without cortisol. This marks the more advanced stages of AFS.

In the advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which is part of the ANS, can become over stimulated. This response is usually a secondary one brought on by stress. The collection of symptoms that arise is called the Reactive Sympathoadrenal Response (RSR), which then floods the body with adrenaline and norepinephrine.

This increases heart rate, brings on anxiety and panic attacks, triggers heart palpitations, irritates the bowels, gives a feeling of being “wired and tired,” makes the heart beat stronger, causes bouts of hypoglycemia, makes one less tolerant to higher and lower temperatures, and leads to many other symptoms. Combined with tiredness and other issues, it is not unusual for those with adrenal fatigue to experience mild depression.

A lack of vitamin E in the body will also impact the Neuroaffect circuit of the NEM, since it has a direct impact on the nervous system, as well as the Inflammation circuit of the NEM, since oxidative stress can lead to inflammation.

Vitamin E Health Benefits for Stress

A study from Ireland showed one of the health benefits of vitamin E is its capability to raise the levels of polyunsaturated fats in the blood, including omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have many positive effects on the symptoms experienced by those under chronic stress or with adrenal fatigue including:

  • Increasing serotonin and dopamine levels for mild depressions
  • Stabilizing blood pressure and heart palpitations
  • Improving focus, memory, and alleviating brain fog

Antioxidant health benefits of vitamin E can neutralize free radicals and protect cells and their constituents from oxidative damage. This is an especially useful action in improving some of the symptoms of stress.

Accumulation of free radicals in the system can contribute to the decline of cognitive function over time, producing issues from brain fog to Alzheimer’s. Similarly, people with AFS experience difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and a decline in other mental functions. Brain fog, lack of focus, and an inability to conduct tasks with the same speed and quality as before is a frequent complaint.

Antioxidants are one of the many vitamin E health benefitsIn this way, a simultaneous occurrence of accumulated oxidative stress from free radicals and the presence of adrenal fatigue can compound difficulties in brain function. In such cases, adding a vitamin E supplement to the overall health plan can help neutralize the oxidative stress and lessen the severity of brain fog and memory loss. And because one of the vitamin E health benefits is that it can improve circulation to the brain, it can help reverse the loss of focus and memory that can come with adrenal fatigue.

But its antioxidant action doesn’t stop there. As the adrenal glands generate free radicals internally while they are synthesizing hormones, vitamin E can help counteract that accumulation. Plus, it helps recycle vitamin C, which is one of the most important antioxidants when it comes to AFS, since the adrenals have one of the highest concentrations of that vitamin in the body, and so need it the most.

In AFS, higher amounts of vitamin E are needed to keep steroid production at optimum levels, especially if you’re going through adrenal fatigue recovery. But caution still has to be used when taking higher doses, since vitamin E is fat-soluble and is metabolized by the liver. Since those with AFS may have a slowed Detoxification circuit and their livers may be sluggish, too much vitamin E may end up accumulating in the system and clogging it up even further.

If you have AFS and you’ve been advised to take vitamin E, remember that, because it is not a direct component of the hormones it helps synthesize, it will take at least three months for you to truly see the vitamin E health benefits in adrenal fatigue recovery.

But please keep in mind that even though vitamin E health benefits are many, you may still end up experiencing paradoxical reactions when supplementing, as this often happens with the more advanced stages of adrenal fatigue. It’s best to try and get as much of your vitamin E needs as possible from food, and supplement with lower doses at first, then see how you feel. You can adjust later as needed.

Vitamin E Health Benefits for Bones, Muscles, and Nerves

More recent studies into tocotrienol have shown its potential in supporting bone health in the following areas:

  • With osteoblasts - the structural cells that create new bones, which are called “osteoid”, and produce the collagen matrix.
  • With osteoclasts – which are the cells that break down old bones by producing acids and enzymes that dissolve minerals and proteins.
  • With reducing the oxidative stress that can disrupt osteoblastic formation and osteoclastic differentiation.

In a randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of post-menopausal women conducted by Texas Tech University, the women were divided into three groups: those taking 300 mg/day of tocotrienol, those taking 600 mg/day, and those taking a placebo. The women took their supplements for 12 weeks total and those taking tocotrienol were found to have a 40-115% increase in bone building, a 7-24% decrease in resorption, and a 31-49% decrease in oxidative stress, with no adverse effects on the liver, kidneys, or quality of life. There was no significant difference in results between the group taking 300 mg/day and the group taking 600 mg/day.

Because vitamin E deficiency can affect the nervous system, the reverse is also true. One of the vitamin E health benefits is that it can help with nerve issues, such as those with vision problems. For example, the risk of the very common age-related macular degeneration in the eyes, which can lead to blindness, can be decreased with vitamin E, as well as with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and zinc. The combination seems to work best.

As for those at risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of tocotrienol can help protect against neuroinflammation and the oxidative stress that can lead to these conditions. And, as we’ve seen in the section on vitamin E health benefits for AFS, it can also help with brain fog and memory loss.

And finally, maintaining the health of the neuronal cells, especially their protective lipid sheaths, is something that can help with muscle strength and coordination, since muscle tissues get their signals on how and when to move from neurons. Vitamin E can prevent the oxidation of these lipids, keeping the neuronal sheaths and cells healthy. Its antioxidant properties can also be used to help you recover from exercising, reducing the amount of oxidative stress caused by physical strain. And because it promotes circulation, oxygenated blood flows more abundantly to your muscles and cells, nourishing and strengthening them and giving your body the energy it needs to stay active.

Vitamin E and Women’s Health

An image of various vitamin E rich foodsWith regards to women’s health and beauty, vitamin E has been known for its beneficial effects on hair and skin. Vitamin E health benefits for the skin come from its ability to improve the skin’s elasticity, increase its moisture levels, and strengthen its capillary walls. Dry, less elastic skin is a sign of aging skin, and in that sense, vitamin E has natural anti-aging properties. Also, just like the rest of the body, the skin is greatly affected by oxidative stress and inflammation, and antioxidants that help fight these issues will always improve the look, feel, and health of the skin.

Vitamin E increases the regeneration of cells, or cell turn-over, meaning it can help your skin renew at a faster rate, another helpful anti-aging property since aging skin tends to renew more slowly than younger skin. This speeding up of skin regeneration can also help with scars and acne, and may also reduce the visibility of wrinkles. A combination of vitamin C and vitamin E can help with damage from sun exposure, eczema, along with aiding in the prevention of skin cancer and hyperpigmentation.

For many older women, estrogen dominance can become a chronic problem, where the estrogen levels are higher relative to the levels of progesterone in the body. Estrogen dominance can have many adverse effects on women’s health, including difficult and irregular menstruation, severe PMS, miscarriages, endometriosis, infertility, breast problems, fibroids, and increased breast cancer risk.

This makes the hormone-balancing vitamin E health benefits a good option for women with estrogen dominance. Taking vitamin E supplements a few days before and after your period can help ease some of the symptoms of PMS and menstruation, such as the cramping, cravings, anxiety, and tiredness. It can also help regulate your cycle. Balanced hormones also make maintaining a healthy weight easier.

Adrenal exhaustion in women can have what is sometimes called the masculinization effect, where androgen secretion begins to change secondary sex characteristics, and symptoms appear like acne, seborrhea, excess hair, hair loss, and skin discoloration.

We’ve already discussed how vitamin E can be beneficial for the skin. As for the hair, it can be applied to the scalp where it helps reduce inflammation, and it also promotes circulation there, which can stimulate hair growth. Once again, its antioxidant activity can help prevent tissue corrosion, repair damage to the follicles, and may even delay the premature graying of the hair. Vitamin E oil can be used as a conditioner for the hair when applied from root to ends, helping the hair retain moisture and shine.

And finally, vitamin E is needed for the development of the baby during pregnancy, and it seems to be most critical in the first trimester when the brain and nervous system are forming. Also, nursing mothers and children up to age two may need extra vitamin E in order to prevent some of the risks that can come with vitamin E deficiency.

Cautions and Considerations

Although there are many vitamin E health benefits, they cannot alleviate the symptoms of most health conditions completely. Chronic ailments require a holistic approach with full medical supervision and professional advice. This is especially true if you are taking other medications or supplements, so it is best to have a medical professional guide you first before making the choice of what supplement to add to your regimen, how much, and how often.

While there are many benefits to vitamin E, one must also be careful about potential adverse effects. It is not generally recommended for adults to take high dosage vitamin E supplements, especially not for prolonged periods of time, unless for specific purposes as advised by a professional.

There are some health risks associated with excessive intake of vitamin E supplementation, including:

  • Increased risk of stroke with prolonged use
  • Skin irritation with topical vitamin E
  • Headaches and nausea from vitamin E overdoses

High doses of vitamin E health benefits are not recommendedAlso, as we’ve touched upon, the vitamin E isomer used will have a different effect. Alpha-tocopherol, which is the most commonly prescribed because it’s been deemed to be the only form that can be used by the human body, is most likely the one you are getting when you buy a supplement, unless you specifically look for one that has other forms of tocopherols or tocotrienol. Tocotrienol derived from Annatto, which comes from the achiote tree native to Brazil and Mexico, seems to be proving itself in recent studies, especially in the support of heart health, cancer treatment, and bone health.

The quality of the supplement is another important consideration, as those naturally-derived seem to work much better than synthetic forms. Taking your vitamin E supplement with food is a good idea since it is a fat-soluble vitamin. If you have fat malabsorption issues, you may want to take it with a lecithin pill.

The final caution to take into consideration is a mistake we see often. If you end up taking a bunch of different supplements together without the guidance of an experienced health professional, you may not find out which supplements are actually helping you and which are harming you. And if you experience paradoxical reactions, you won’t know whether it’s a supplement or if your health condition, like AFS, is worsening. That’s why it is always important to be very careful when supplementing with vitamin E or any other nutrient when you have a chronic issue.

Used wisely, however, there are still many health benefits to taking vitamin E and ensuring you are getting adequate intake in your diet. It is an important antioxidant and can aid in improving many conditions.

© Copyright 2016-2019 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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