Vitamin E is a common ingredient in personal care products and supplements, with several potential benefits for human health. However, it seems that vitamin E oil and vitamin E acetate vape juices could be doing much more harm than good.
In this article, we explore how vitamin E acetate affects the body and its relationship to the current vape-related lung disease crisis.
What Is Vitamin E Acetate?
Vitamin E acetate is a fat-soluble compound that comes in the form of odorless, off-white crystals with a melting point of 82◦F. It is also known as tocopheryl acetate and has the chemical formula C₃₁H₅₂O₃. It is a substance that experts classify as both a vitamin and an antioxidant.
Vitamins are a group of chemicals that our bodies need for normal cell function, development, and growth. Vitamin E is just one of 13 different vitamins that are essential to human health.
Antioxidants are also vital to our wellbeing as they help our bodies to combat the harmful effects of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a contributing factor in many chronic health conditions, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
We come into contact with many different vitamin E sources daily. As well as being a component of many different foods, it is a common ingredient in skincare, haircare, and other personal care products. You can also find vitamin E in various brands of supplements.
Vitamin E Oil Has Natural or Synthetic Sources
Some of the most common vitamin E uses include healthcare and beauty products. However, the best sources of vitamin E are the foods that we consume on a daily basis.
Some foods that contain high levels of vitamin E include:
- Vegetable oils (e.g., sunflower, soybean, wheat germ, corn)
- Sunflower seeds
- Nuts (e.g., hazelnuts, almonds)
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Leafy greens
- Fortified cereals, juices, and spreads
The recommended daily intake of vitamin E for adults is 15mg or 22.4 international units. The majority of healthy people (97–98%) can get all they need from their diets. However, people with certain medical conditions may need to take a supplement. For example, people with conditions like cystic fibrosis may have difficulty absorbing vitamin E from their food.
Unfortunately, synthetic vitamin E is not as biologically active as the natural form. Therefore, most experts agree that you should try and get all you need from food. There is insufficient evidence that taking a vitamin E supplement is better for you than eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Can You Vape Vitamin E Acetate?
Another use of vitamin E is as a diluent in vape juices. Manufacturers use it to dilute the active ingredients in the liquid, whether they be nicotine, THC, or CBD. Some other common diluents in vape juices include propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), and medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT).
However, it now appears that vitamin E vape products could be doing consumers far more harm than good. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have linked vaping vitamin E with the dramatic increase in vape-related lung disease that plagued certain states throughout 2019.
Doctors have dubbed respiratory problems due to vaping as ‘vaping-associated pulmonary injury’ (VAPI) or ‘e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury’ (EVALI). At the time of writing, the condition has affected over 1000 Americans, with several cases resulting in death.
Many of the affected patients had been using THC-containing vape products. A large proportion of these products also contained vitamin E acetate.
Since it is unlikely that THC could lead to lung damage on its own, experts have pinpointed vitamin E acetate as the probable culprit. The FDA found the ingredient in 51% of THC-containing vape oils in concentrations ranging from 23% to 88%. The CDC has also seen the ingredient in many EVALI patients’ lung fluid.
Why Is Vitamin E Acetate Associated with Lung Injury?
The EVALI crisis began in June 2019 and peaked in September of the same year. And although the number of emergency department visits for the condition has now decreased, there are still grave concerns.
When the FDA and CDC began testing products and patients’ lung fluid, they found vitamin E acetate in a high proportion of samples. Conversely, they did not find the chemical in the lung fluid of healthy people. These findings suggest that vitamin E acetate lung damage is a real threat to those who vape their THC.
In light of the discoveries about vitamin E acetate causing lung damage, the FDA and CDC have released several new guidelines. They recommend that people do not use THC-containing vape products, especially if they acquire them from ‘informal sources.’ It appears that vapes bought on the street are far more likely to cause problems than those from reputable companies.
Of course, there are other chemicals in vape juice that could also be potentially harmful. Investigations are ongoing and, until we know more, it is advisable to steer clear of these products altogether.
Vitamin E Potential Benefits
Although vaping vitamin E is potentially dangerous, there are several beneficial vitamin E uses too. The compound plays an essential role in immune functioning, as well as cell signaling and gene expression. It aids metabolic processes, dilates the blood vessels, and inhibits platelet aggregation to reduce blood clotting.
All of these crucial functions are part of the reason why some people choose to take vitamin E supplements. However, the research to support the use of these products is somewhat conflicting.
Scientists have been studying the benefits of vitamin E supplementation for various conditions. These include:
- Coronary heart disease
- Cognitive decline
- Eye disorders (e.g. age-related macular degeneration and cataracts)
However, they have been unable to find conclusive evidence that vitamin E helps with any of these issues. While some studies yielded positive results, others have failed to do so. Most experts conclude that more research is necessary to confirm the benefits of vitamin E supplements.
Vitamin E Potential Risks
In addition to having limited benefits, there are also some risks to taking vitamin E in supplement form. High doses could cause a variety of side effects, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Increased risk of bleeding
Taking too much vitamin E oil could prevent blood from clotting effectively and increase the risk of hemorrhage and strokes. It could also interact with medication such as:
- Anticoagulants (e.g. warfarin)
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs (e.g. simvastatin)
- Chemotherapy or radiation therapy
Furthermore, research indicates that taking 400 international units of vitamin E per day could increase the risk of prostate cancer. A 2011 study looked at 34,887 men aged 55 and over. The authors reduced the age to 50 and over for African-Americans who have a higher risk of prostate cancer.
The researchers allocated the men at random to one of four groups: Vitamin E supplementation, selenium supplementation, vitamin E and selenium supplementation, and placebo. At the end of the follow-up period, all treatment groups had a higher risk of developing prostate cancer compared with the placebo. However, the men with the most significant risk were those taking vitamin E alone.
This study supports the idea that most people should get their daily dose of vitamin E from food sources rather than supplements. Anyone considering supplementation should discuss it carefully with their physician first.
Bottom Line on Vitamin E Acetate
Vitamin E is a substance that is essential for our health and wellbeing. However, it is far better to get it from natural, dietary sources rather than artificial supplements. Not only is natural vitamin E easier for the body to absorb, but it is far safer, too.
Furthermore, vitamin E acetate vape juices appear to present many dangers of their own. The FDA and CDC have linked this ingredient to the recent EVALI crisis and recommended that consumers avoid these products.
More research is undoubtedly necessary to determine precisely how vitamin E acetate might influence our long-term health. In the meantime, play it safe by sticking with natural sources of vitamin E unless your physician advises you otherwise.