You may already be familiar with vitamin E from your skin care products. Applied topically, vitamin E can help protect your skin from UV damage. But did you know that you also need it in your diet? Like many nutrients, vitamin E is essential to human development and function. The vitamin includes eight compounds, but only one of those is used in the human body -- alpha-tocopherol.
The pros and cons of vitamin E have been disputed over many years. So, what do you need to know? We've done the research. Here are the benefits and drawbacks that are backed by science.
What is vitamin E?
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient found in many foods and is important to the human body in a variety of ways. Vitamin E, in the form of alpha-tocopherol, is a powerful antioxidant that works as a free-radical-fighting machine.
While it is possible to meet daily vitamin E needs through food, oral and topical supplements are also available but should be used cautiously and according to directions.
Adding vitamin E to your diet
Nuts, seeds and vegetable oils top the list of the best sources, but vitamin E can be found in many foods. Here are some excellent and versatile food choices to boost your vitamin E.
- Boiled or raw spinach
- Dry roasted sunflower seeds
- Dry roasted almonds
- Dry roasted hazelnuts
- Peanut butter
- Red bell pepper
Benefits of vitamin E
Vitamin E has been touted as offering many benefits to the human body. Some of those are inconclusive in terms of showing true benefit in scientific studies. Here are some vitamin E benefits that have science to back them up.
1. May lower blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Some studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin E can help to lower blood pressure, though the results were not as favorable for those with severe high blood pressure.
Although results are mixed on the relationship between vitamin E supplementation and cardiovascular disease, a study that followed 40,000 healthy women for 10 years found that those who supplemented vitamin E had a 24% lower risk of death by a cardiac event. The results were not as positive for those at high risk or who already had heart disease.
2. Fights free radicals
Vitamin E is known to battle free radicals and protect cells from their damage; fewer free radicals can mean several good things for the human body.
Cellular damage due to free radicals increases the risk for various health issues like cardiovascular disease, inflammatory disease, cataracts and cancer. Antioxidants that fight free radicals, like vitamin E, also fight those chronic conditions.
A bonus? Vitamin E's contribution to free radical reduction also reduces skin damage from UV exposure. Less skin damage means a more youthful glow, and who doesn't want that?
Its anti-inflammatory effects also help to reduce symptoms in chronic inflammatory skin conditions like dermatitis.
3. Can improve PMS symptoms
Around 80% to 90% of women experience some degree of premenstrual syndrome during their reproductive years. For some, PMS is painful and disruptive to daily life. Vitamin E may bring some respite if you are one of the 80% to 90%.
Studies show that supplementing vitamin E with vitamin D may be an effective way to reduce PMS symptoms like cramping, anxiety and cravings.
Drawbacks to vitamin E supplements
As with any supplement, vitamin E should be used according to instructions and with caution.
Avoid too much of a good thing
Being fat-soluble is not a bad thing. But too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing. Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E dissolve in fat, as opposed to water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C. That means that vitamin E can be stored in your body's fat tissues and liver for up to six months.
Since most of our vitamin E needs can be met through food, high doses of vitamin E are rarely needed and can cause serious health conditions.
You may experience side effects
When taken in small doses, vitamin E rarely causes any negative side effects. However, this is not the case for everyone. Here are some side effects to watch out for:
- Blurred vision
- Stomach cramps
May cause or worsen certain health conditions
Before supplementing or increasing your dietary intake of vitamin E, consider the following health conditions that could be caused or worsened by vitamin E.
- Prostate cancer: Though further research is limited, a trial study of 35,533 healthy men concluded that dietary supplementation with vitamin E caused a significant increase in prostate cancer.
- Heart disease: Though there is no research to suggest vitamin E causes heart disease, some research does suggest that vitamin E may worsen the condition and increase the risk of death by heart attack or stroke.
- Hemorrhage: High doses of vitamin E have been shown to cause bleeding and increase the risk for hemorrhagic stroke.
- Diabetes: Current information supports discouraging people with diabetes from supplementing with vitamin E.
May interact with certain drugs
If you are taking any prescription medications or supplements, check with your medical provider before supplementing with vitamin E. Vitamin E may counteract the effectiveness of some drugs or supplements like vitamin K, statins, niacin, blood thinners, anti-platelet drugs or even chemotherapy drugs.
Can vitamin E be taken daily?
For adults, the recommended daily amount of vitamin E is 15 mg. It takes only a small amount of the right foods to reach 15 mg. For example, there is 7.4 mg of vitamin E in one ounce of sunflower seeds and 7.3 mg per one ounce of almonds. Either of those will bring you to around 49% of your daily need for vitamin E.
Since vitamin E is so accessible in food, and in this case, more is not better, supplementing is not often needed. However, if you're unable to get the recommended daily amount through food, you should limit your supplementation to 15 mg or less per day to achieve the full benefits of vitamin E.
If you're taking any other supplements or drugs, be sure to consult with your medical provider before taking vitamin E.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.