Vitamin E is a versatile nutrient and antioxidant that takes care of your eyes, skin, blood, brain, and other vital organs. Its antioxidant property attributes to many of its beneficial roles in human health, primarily by fighting oxidation. Oxidation has been linked to numerous conditions like premature aging, cataracts, arthritis, and other degenerative diseases. Vitamin E acts as a cell-protecting nutrient that works by mitigating the harmful effects of oxidation. For this reason, it is also among the potent chain-breaking antioxidants.
Let's take a quick look at the functions and roles of vitamin E in human health! But before that, here is a brief intro on vitamin E.
What is Vitamin E?
Unless you are a science nerd, you may be unaware that "vitamin E" is a collective description for eight fat-soluble compounds. It occurs naturally as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta classes of 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols. Vitamin E is present in fat-containing foods; the fat-soluble property of the vitamin allows it to be stored within the fatty tissues of animals and humans. Hence, it does not have to be consumed every day.
Among the tocopherols, the alpha and gamma types are found in the serum and the red blood cells, with the alpha-tocopherol present in significant concentrations. Beta and delta are present only in minute concentrations. Besides the liver, the alpha-tocopherol form is found in higher concentrations in specific sites where free radical production is greatest, such as in the cells (membranes of the mitochondria) and the heart and lung tissues. Site-specific concentrations explain the crucial role played by vitamin E in reducing oxidative stress.
Role of vitamin E in health
Prevents oxidative stress: Vitamin E is a powerful chain-breaking antioxidant that blocks the never-ending propagation of free radical reactions. A free radical is an unstable molecule, in order to stabilize itself it steals an electron from a cell, resulting in a second free radical formation. The process keeps continuing until a chain-breaking antioxidant ends it. Vitamin E is one such antioxidant that inhibits the production of more reactive free radicals. When fats undergo oxidation, it generates reactive oxygen species (free radicals) hence vitamin E is heavily concentrated on fat tissues to prevent excessive free radical generation.
Immune boost: Studies show that vitamin E stimulates immune defense by enhancing immune responses against pathogens. Vitamin E has a pronounced effect in infectious diseases where immune phagocytosis (a process in which immune cells engulf bacteria) is involved. Laboratory studies show that vitamin E is involved in cell signaling, regulation of gene expression, and other metabolic processes.
Protects cell membrane: Vitamin E lends greater stability to the cell by facilitating tighter packing of the fat membranes. Also, the phospholipids present in the cell membrane are susceptible to oxidation. Since vitamin E is highly concentrated in the cells, it prevents oxidation.
Regulates platelet aggregation: High concentrations of vitamin E in endothelial cells are found to prevent platelet clumping. Endothelial cells line all blood vessels and handle the exchange between blood and surrounding tissues. Research also shows that vitamin E aids in the release of prostacyclin from endothelial cells. Prostacyclin is a potent blood vessel dilator, improving blood circulation and reducing blood clots.
Offers protection from heart diseases: Vitamin E can be helpful to reduce the risk of heart problems since it helps reduce the oxidation of LDL (low-density lipoproteins). LDL oxidation and consequent inflammation are identified as the primary reason for heart disease and its related complications. Another study found that mixed tocopherols have a stronger inhibitory effect on lipid peroxidation and the inhibition of human platelet aggregation than individual tocopherols alone, indicating a synergistic action in preventing platelet aggregation.
Good for your skin: Vitamin E is known for its natural ability to improve moisture, elasticity, and strengthening of capillary walls and boost the health of the skin. Studies show that vitamin E reduces inflammation on the skin, keeping it healthy and youthful. Its effects are noted for its antioxidant action on the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays, pollution, and smoke.
For endurance and muscular strength: Although it is not clearly confirmed, researchers postulate that having enough vitamin E in the blood can reduce the damage caused by free radical generation during exercise. Endurance exercise may increase free radical production, which could lead to muscle damage and exercise-induced injury. Researchers suggest that vitamin E may be mobilized from tissues and redistributed in the body to prevent oxidative damage. It is also recommended that endurance athletes take 100- 200 mg of vitamin E daily to prevent exercise-induced oxidative damage and longer endurance.
Who is at risk of vitamin E deficiency?
- People who take an extremely low-fat diet or have a problem absorbing dietary fat (fat is needed for absorbing vitamin E).
- Those that have undergone gastric bypass surgery.
- Patients suffering from cystic fibrosis, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, liver disease, and pancreatic enzyme deficiency.
- Those who do extreme dieting and avoid major food groups.
Deficiency symptoms include vision deterioration, muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, walking difficulty, balance and coordination issues, and skin problems. Muscle weakness coupled with coordination problems indicates damage to the central and peripheral nervous system. The nervous system is composed of neurons which are primarily fats. When the body has very low vitamin E levels, the fats in the neurons do not get antioxidant protection. This breaks down the nervous system and eventually deteriorates its normal function.
How to ensure you get all forms of vitamin in your diet?
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.
A typical diet provides more of the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E and less of the alpha-tocopherol. Besides, it is also harder to get the tocotrienol forms in your diet as the sources are less. For this reason, The Linus Pauling Institute recommends taking vitamin E supplements that give a mix of tocopherols along with tocotrienol form of vitamin E.
Here are some vitamin E supplement recommendations that offer alpha tocopherols along with tocotrienols,
Annatto-E 150 by Designs for Health: The formulation is a unique tocotrienols-only product, featuring tocotrienols sourced from the annatto tree. Annatto is the richest known source of tocotrienols, containing 100% tocotrienols (90% delta and 10% gamma isomers), with no tocopherols. Most commercial vitamin E supplements are typically rich in tocopherols and low or absent in tocotrienols. Studies show that tocotrienols possess powerful neuroprotective, anti-cancer, and cholesterol-lowering properties often not exhibited by tocopherols. Also, research indicates that since tocopherols (alpha-tocopherol) may interfere with vital beneficial actions of tocotrienols, it is best to dose tocotrienols alone, without tocopherols. The formulation is non-GMO and suitable for those recommended the tocotrienol form of vitamin E over tocopherols.
Vitamin E by Integrative Therapeutics: The formulation offers 268 mg of vitamin E as d-alpha tocopherol and 50 mg of mixed tocopherols (gamma, delta, alpha, and beta). Since the formula provides the full range of tocopherols that offers the best antioxidant protection and aid heart health. The suggested dosage is one soft gel a day or as prescribed by your physician.
Selenium + Vitamin E by Douglas Labs: The supplement offers a combination of two powerful antioxidants – selenium and vitamin E in a single formulation. One soft gel provides 400 IU ( International units) of vitamin E and 50 mcg of selenium. The trace mineral selenium is a cofactor to about 10 selenoproteins in the body; the most important of these appears to be glutathione peroxidase (GPX). GPX uses glutathione to reduce hydrogen peroxide and thus protect cells and plasma against free radical injury. Along with vitamin E, selenium offers robust antioxidant protection against oxidative stress. It safeguards the integrity of cells and cell lining.
As with all supplements, always consult with your healthcare provider about taking vitamin E supplements. This is important because the use of certain drugs may influence the effect of vitamin E and may have drug-nutrient interaction. For instance, using vitamin E with anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs to reduce blood clotting might increase the risk of bleeding.
Overall, vitamin E, with its excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, offers protective effects to cells and tissues. It is important to note that vitamin E depends heavily on vitamin C, vitamin B3, selenium, and glutathione. A diet rich in vitamin E can have an optimal effect only if the diet also provides these other nutrients. Hence, including vitamin E supplements as part of a healthy diet plan is a great way to boost its level in the body to reap its benefits.