Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from free radical damage. In addition, vitamin E is necessary for immune system functioning, and it helps prevent blood from clotting within blood vessels.
Vitamin E is actually eight natural compounds all with different potencies: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. The most abundant form of vitamin E found in the body, alpha-tocopherol, is also the most biologically active.
Vitamin E: Antioxidant at Work
Alpha-tocopherol protects cell membranes from the damaging effects of free radicals, compounds produced in the body during digestion and upon exposure to UV rays, air pollution, cigarette smoke and other environmental contaminants. However, UV radiation can also decrease or even deplete alpha-tocopherol. But, vitamin C can regenerate oxidized vitamin E. And, both vitamins work together to decrease the damage caused by free radicals.
Many foods contain vitamin E though the best sources are vegetable oils.
- Wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil
- Nuts and seeds, including peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds
- Vitamin E fortified foods, such as cereal, juice, margarine, nutrition bars and protein powders
Vitamin E & Healthy Skin
In addition to food and supplemental sources, some cosmetic products (lotions, creams, oils) contain vitamin E.
When applied to the skin topically, both animal and human studies have found topical vitamin E can decrease “lipid peroxidation” or aged skin due to UV light exposure, immune system suppression and an increase in the production of certain compounds in the skin.
Oral Vitamin E
Research has found that antioxidant vitamins can help support and maintain healthy skin and may protect the skin against sun damage. These include Vitamins A, C and E, as well as selenium.
By speeding up the skin’s natural repair systems and directly inhibiting further damage, these antioxidant vitamins may actually reverse some of the discoloration and wrinkles associated with aging. Specifically, Vitamin E helps your body to body regulate retinol levels, which is essential for healthy skin. It is also key for healthy immune system and healthy eyes.
Vitamin E in Your Multivitamin
Most multivitamins also contain vitamin E, and though the majority of multivitamins contain the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E, vitamin E supplements typically contain multiple times the RDA. And while some consumers may believe more is better, there is no evidence that consuming several times the RDA of vitamin E will improve any health parameters.
Plus, too much of this nutrient may do more harm than good, causing the cellular damage it typically protects the body from. While some vitamin E supplements contain more than one form of vitamin E as mixed tocopherols or tocotrienols, science has yet to uncover whether a combination of these forms of vitamin E are more beneficial than alpha-tocopherol alone.
The majority of Americans do not consume the RDA for vitamin E through diet alone.
Despite this, it is uncommon for healthy people to show any signs of suboptimal vitamin E intake. Additionally, true vitamin E deficiency is very rare and most commonly stems from diseases that impair the body’s ability to digest or absorb fat such as Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and certain rare genetic diseases. Vitamin E deficiency can lead to nerve and muscle damage which results in loss of feeling in one’s arms and legs, muscle weakness, weakened immune system, vision problems and loss of ability to control body movements.
Too Much Vitamin E can be harmful
Though consuming high doses of vitamin E through food isn’t known to be harmful, very high supplemental doses (well in excess of the RDA), consumed consistently over a period of time may increase one’s risk of bleeding by decreasing the body’s ability to clot. In particular, vitamin E can increase risk of bleeding in people who take anticoagulant medications such as warfarin (Coumadin®).
Geritol® multivitamin contains 30 I.U. of vitamin E, or 100% of the RDA.
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin E. Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH. Retrieved from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-QuickFacts/ February 26, 2013.
Chen L, Hu JY, Wang SQ. Antioxidants in photoprotection: a critical review. J Am Acad Dermatol 2012; 67:1013-24.