Vitamin E is a term that describes several fat-soluble nutrients with similar structures and functions. They are renowned for their powerful antioxidant effects, but what does this mean for our health?
This article explores the best-known vitamin E benefits, where to find it, and possible side effects. Read on for our complete guide.
Benefits of Vitamin E
The term vitamin E refers to a group of fat-soluble molecules with similar chemical structures and effects.
There are eight naturally occurring forms, of which alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active. In fact, alpha-tocopherol is the only type of vitamin E that meets human nutritional requirements.
Alpha-tocopherol is the only type of vitamin E that meets human nutritional requirements.
Therefore, it is the best-researched form and the primary focus of this article.
Scientists Evans and Bishop discovered vitamin E in 1922. However, researchers are still investigating its full range of functions and precisely how it affects various aspects of human health.
What we do know is that vitamin E is good for our cells due to its potent antioxidant effects. But what exactly does this mean, and why is it important? Let’s take a closer look.
Acts as an Antioxidant
Antioxidants are compounds that protect our cells by reacting with harmful molecules called free radicals.
Our cells produce free radicals as a by-product when they generate energy. They are molecules that have an unpaired electron in their outer shells, making them highly unstable.
They take an electron from another molecule to stabilize themselves, causing the target to become a free radical itself.
In moderation, this chain reaction is beneficial and contributes significantly to normal immune function. However, in excess, it can damage cells by triggering a process known as oxidative stress.
Factors contributing to unhealthy free radical production and oxidative stress include tobacco smoking, environmental pollution, and ultraviolet radiation.
It is associated with the aging process and numerous chronic conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, and more.
Therefore, minimizing free radical activity and oxidative stress is one of the best ways to maintain health. That is why antioxidants like vitamin E are so essential.
They are molecules that can donate an electron to stabilize free radicals without becoming free radicals themselves. They can halt the chain reaction that leads to oxidative stress and protect our cells from damage.
Therefore, vitamin E’s antioxidant properties could make it useful for both maintaining wellbeing and countering disease. That said, research into vitamin E supplementation to treat and prevent specific conditions has so far yielded inconsistent results.
Slows the Aging Process of Cells
Vitamin E’s antioxidant effects make it one of the most crucial healthy-cell vitamins in our diets.
Specifically, it helps to protect the fatty acids that make up our cell membranes and maintains their bioactivity. It also assists the formation of red blood cells and helps to body utilize vitamin K.
Vitamin E is also essential for maintaining healthy skin. It has photoprotective properties, meaning that it reduces the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, a leading cause of skin aging. It appears to work most effectively in combination with vitamin C.
Because of its beneficial impact on skin cells, vitamin E has become a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetic products. It also helps to keep them stable and extend their shelf life due to its antioxidant properties.
Other Benefits and Deficiency Symptoms
Vitamin E is involved in several other crucial functions, including:
- Immune function
- The inflammatory response
- Cell signaling
- Gene expression
- Blood vessel function
- Preventing blood clots
Furthermore, the rare genetic disorders ataxia and vitamin E deficiency (AVED), and abetalipoproteinemia affect uptake. Therefore, people with these conditions may need to increase their vitamin E intake to avoid deficiency.
The symptoms of vitamin E deficiency are primarily neurological and include:
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Ataxia (loss of coordination and balance)
- Muscle disorders
- Impaired immune function
So, how much vitamin E do we need, and what are the best sources?
Ways to Get Vitamin E
The recommended daily vitamin E intake for most adults is 15mg. The best sources of vitamin E include:
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.)
- Vegetable oils (wheat germ, soy, safflower, sunflower, and corn oil)
- Leafy greens (spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, etc.)
- Fortified cereal, juice, or margarine
It is also possible to purchase vitamin E supplements. They are available as natural vitamin E (RRR-alpha-tocopherol, or D-alpha-tocopherol) or synthetic vitamin E (all-rac-alpha-tocopherol, or DL-alpha-tocopherol). However, synthetic vitamin E is half as only half as active as the natural form.
Vitamin E Side Effects
It is possible to consume too much vitamin E. Although it is difficult to overdose on food sources, excessive supplement use can cause serious problems. The recommended upper daily limit is 1000mg for most adults.
Possible vitamin E supplement side effects include:
- Stomach cramps
- Blurred vision
High doses can interfere with blood clotting, increasing the risk of hemorrhage and strokes. Therefore, some doctors recommend discontinuing vitamin E supplementation before elective surgery.
Vitamin E can interact with several medications and anybody taking other medicines should consult a physician before use.
The vitamin can also interact with several medications, including anticoagulants and blood thinners, cholesterol-lowering drugs, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Therefore, anybody taking other medicines should consult a physician before taking vitamin E supplements.
Finally, vitamin E affects vitamin K absorption. Therefore, people with vitamin K deficiency should not take supplements without medical supervision.
Bottom Line on Vitamin E Benefits
The health benefits of vitamin E mainly stem from its antioxidant properties. It helps to neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress, thus reducing cell damage and the risk of chronic disease. However, research into the nutrient’s effects on specific health conditions is currently inconclusive.
It is possible to find vitamin E in various foods, and most people can get enough by eating a balanced diet. Those at risk of deficiency may choose to take a supplement but should seek professional guidance to ensure it is suitable for them.