When me and my siblings were children, our mother was always after us with raw fruits or bowls of fruits chaat. She always emphasized on taking a good diet that included a lot of veggies and fruits. Well, at that time we usually ran away from the ‘good diet’, but then it is her persistence that led us into becoming healthy adults. She was, of course, right. A healthy diet containing vegetables and fruits is essential especially in this fast paced modern era as they contain various vitamins and minerals essential for normal body functions and growth and development.
One of the fat-soluble Vitamins, Vitamin E is essential in building up a strong immunity and keeping eyes and skin healthy. In fact, recently, Vitamin E supplements are being marketed as antioxidants providing protection to the body cells from the damage from free radicals. Let’s take deeper dive into the knowhows about this vitamin.
What are the problems related to Vitamin E deficiency?
Earlier vitamin E deficiency was thought to be very rare and, when it did occur, it was usually not associated with a poor diet. Howbeit, clinicians in current era believe that people are not obtaining enough vitamin E from their diet alone, especially now that everyone is migrating towards fat-free or low-fat diet.
The fact is that vitamin E deficiency is a chiefly a result of malfunction of nutrient absorption. Premature birth is also a risk factor for vitamin E deficiency particularly if the weight is less than 3.5 pounds. A good paediatrician can, however, take care of the problem by spotting and treating it early. In individuals with fat absorption problems like in inflammatory bowel disease also are at risk of vitamin E deficiency.
Also, people having an issue of low dietary fat levels are at risk of vitamin E deficiency, since the vitamin is fat-soluble and requires fat for absorption. Individuals with cystic fibrosis, gastric bypass surgery, or those with malabsorption conditions like Crohn’s disease, pancreatic insufficiency, or liver disease. Thus, it becomes important to supplement Vitamin E, especially in people taking low-fat diet.
Symptoms of deficiency comprises of impaired vision, speech, and muscle coordination.
What are the health benefits of taking Vitamin E?
A lot of people consume vitamin E supplements in hopes that its antioxidant action is going to help them in preventing or even treating a disease. However, a proper medical evidence is yet to be found. The studies conducted so far in establishing their role in preventing heart diseases, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cataracts and several other health issues have rather been unsatisfactory.
Nonetheless, studies have shown that vitamin E supplements does help in those who are suffering from Vitamin E deficiency, however rare they might be.
1. Regulates cholesterol level
Liver synthesizes several types of cholesterols including HDL, LDL, and VLDL, required for many functions of the cells, hormones and nerves. Naturally, their levels are maintained as required for proper functioning. However, improper diet and altered lifestyle may imbalance the cholesterol levels, leaving cholesterols in oxidized state which can be harmful. Studies have established that antioxidant action of vitamin E provides protection against oxidization of cholesterols by fighting off free radicals.
Tocotrienol isomer of vitamin E is particularly helpful as it reduces activity of HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme required in cholesterol synthesis. It also reduces cell adhesion, thus, hindering the progression of atherosclerosis. Natural Vitamin E, however, is more beneficial than artificial one.
2. Antioxidant action and slowing disease progression
Free radicals are responsible for damaging various cells in our body, leading to development of many health issues including heart diseases and cancer. The antioxidant action of certain isomers of Vitamin E are helpful in fighting these free radicals, thus preventing the damage and fighting inflammation. This action is helpful in naturally slowing down aging of cells and preventing health conditions like heart diseases.
Studies have shown that vitamin E improves immunity, thereby preventing common health issues and some serious illnesses as well. Researches have shown that antioxidant and immune-enhancement actions are particularly seen in isomers alpha-tocotrienol and gamma-tocotrienol. Delta-tocotrienol also shows mild action.
3. Skin protection and repair
Vitamin E helps skin by fortifying the capillary walls, improving skin moisture and elasticity. Vitamin E acts as a natural anti-aging nutrient. Studies have established that vitamin E decreases inflammation within the body as well as over the skin, thereby maintaining a healthy glowing skin. The antioxidant action is also useful against UV rays of sunlight and cigarette smoke, thus preventing skin cancer.
Vitamin E along with vitamin C are together helpful in reducing signs of eczema and acne. Vitamin E aids in skin cells healing, and helps in treating sunburn which is a leading cause of skin cancer. As vitamin E boosts cell regeneration, it is also useful in treating scars, wrinkles and acne.
4. Hair care
Being an antioxidant vitamin E is helpful in reducing the environmental damage to the hair. Vitamin E also accentuates blood circulation to the scalp. It is also helpful in retaining moisture in the skin thus preventing scalp from drying and flaking. The oil itself makes the hair appear nourished and fresh. You should apply a few drops of oil with vitamin E over your hair. Remember all those times when your mother sat with you oiling your hair? Well, who can forget that? Isn’t that still one of the happiest childhood memories? And, healthy as well.
5. Regulates hormones
Vitamin E has vital role in balancing the nervous and endocrine system by balancing hormones. It’s needless to say if hormones aren’t balanced the body suffers from a lot of health issues including weight gain, PMS, allergies, skin changes, urinary tract infections, fatigue and anxiety. Vitamin E is helpful in maintaining hormone levels, thus keeping body functions regulated.
6. Helpful in PMS symptoms
Vitamin E supplement 2-3 days before and after a menstrual period helps in reducing symptoms like anxiety, cramping and cravings. It also decreases pain duration and intensity, as well as blood loss. It also helps in regulating menstrual cycle. The basic mechanism behind these actions is by balancing the hormones.
7. Aids in vision
Vitamin E is helpful in reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness. Vitamin E taken along with adequate amounts of beta-carotene, vitamin C and zinc keeps eyes healthier. High doses of vitamin E and A are particularly recommended in people undergoing laser eye surgery for faster healing.
8. Helpful in Alzheimer’s disease
Studies has shown that tocotrienols are helpful in protecting against Alzheimer’s disease due to their anti-inflammatory action. Vitamin E slow down the progression of memory loss and functional impairment in individuals with moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Vitamin E taken along with vitamin C is helpful in reducing the risk of developing various kinds of dementia.
9. Lowering cancer risk and side-effects of treatments
Isomers of vitamin E are helpful in protecting against cancer. Animal studies have shown that oral intake of tocotrienols is effective in supressing tumour growth. Although, a clear mechanism is yet to be established, various mechanism can possibly be behind the benefits like supressing genes related to cancer, inducing cancer cell death, constraining angiogenesis and supressing growth of blood vessels within the tumour. Vitamin E is found useful in cancers of breast, hepatic, prostate and skin in animal models.
Vitamin E is also helpful in reducing the side-effects of various treatment methods like radiation therapy or dialysis. The protective effect is due to the antioxidant action fighting off the free radicals. Vitamin E is effective again other medicinal drugs’ side effects like hair loss or damage to the lungs.
10. Accentuates muscle strength and physical stamina
Vitamin E helps in increasing endurance. It improves energy levels and reduces the oxidative stress in muscles after workouts. Vitamin E also increases muscle strength, capillary walls, nourishes cells, and removes fatigue by promoting blood circulation.
11. Fetal growth during pregnancy
When a fetus grows in the womb it is important that the mother receives a good diet and appropriate nutrition including all vitamins and minerals. Vitamin E is also essential for adequate development of fetus, infants and children. Vitamin E is also necessary as it protects vital fatty acids and aids in alleviating inflammation. It is important to provide vitamin E during early pregnancy as that’s the time when brain and neurological development. Thus, it’s recommended that pregnant females, nursing mothers, and children up to the age of 2 should take proper diet and supplements.
What is the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin E?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) including uptake from diet and supplements is as follows:
IU and in mg and (IU)
|1-3 years||9 IU (6 mg/day)|
|4-8 years||10.4 IU (7 mg/day)|
|9-13 years||16.4 IU (11 mg/day)|
|14 years and up||22.4 IU (15 mg/day)|
|Pregnant||22.4 IU (15 mg/day)|
|Nursing mothers||28.5 IU (19 mg/day)|
|14 years and up||22.4 IU (15 mg/day)|
Maximum tolerable limit of vitamin E (above which it can be rather harmful), except in individuals with vitamin E deficiency are as follows
|Category||Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL) of
in IU and mg
|1-3 years||300 IU (200 mg/day)|
|4-8 years||450 IU (300 mg/day)|
|9-13 years||900 IU (600 mg/day)|
|14-18 years||1,200 IU (800 mg/day)|
|19 years and up||1,500 IU (1,000 mg/day)|
Being fat-soluble vitamin supplements are best taken with food for better absorption.
What are the sources of Vitamin E?
Usually, people can get enough vitamin E from their diet itself as long as the diet is proper. Vitamin E is actually a collective term for 8 different compounds including four tocotrienols and four tocopherols. It is essential for infants, children, women especially when pregnant, and elderly to get enough vitamin E from their diet. The natural sources of vitamin E are as follows:
- Vegetable oils
- Spinach: 2 cups of cooked or ½ cup of uncooked spinach contains 1.9 mg vitamin E (10% RDA in adults)
- Sunflower seeds: 1 cup contains 33.41 mg (220% of RDA)
- Hazelnuts: 1 cup contains 20.29 mg (133% of RDA)
- Almonds: 1 cup contains 32.98 mg (218% of RDA)
- Wheat: 1 cup of plain wheat germ contain 18 mg (120% of RDA)
- Avocado: One raw fruit contain 2.68 mg (18%)
- Mango: One raw fruit contain 3.02 mg (20%)
- Butternut squash: A cup of cooked and cubed squash contain 2.64 mg vitamin E (17%)
- Broccoli: A cup of cooked broccoli contain 2.4 mg (12%)
- Kiwi: One medium sized fruit contain 1.1 mg (6%)
What are the side effects associated with vitamin E?
- Topical application of vitamin E can irritate skin.
- Vitamin E supplement overdose is often associated with nausea, bleeding, headache, fatigue and other symptoms.
- It’s advisable to consult your doctor before taking vitamin E supplements in people taking blood thinners or any other medication.
What are the risk associated with Vitamin E supplements?
There is still not enough evidence regarding effects of vitamin E; benefits or risks. However, long term use of vitamin E has been found to increase the risk of stroke. In fact, clinical research has found that patients taking either natural vitamin E or synthetic in dosages over 400 IU/day were at a greater risk of death from varying causes. Some studies hint that diabetics or patients suffering from cardiovascular conditions are at higher risk of heart failure if they take natural vitamin E at or above 400 IU/day.
Also, vitamin E may be harmful if consumed during early pregnancy. A study found that pregnant females taking vitamin E supplements within the first 8 weeks had a 1.7 – 9 times greater risk of congenital heart defects.
Another study with large population established that males taking multivitamins over 7 times a week along with additional vitamin E supplements were at significantly higher risk of prostate cancer.
According to the American Heart Association it is recommended to gain Vitamin E and antioxidants from a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, instead of relying on supplements. Supplements should be used in cases of vitamin E deficiency after consulting your doctor.