Vitamin E is particularly popular among supplementation enthusiasts and the general public alike. First discovered in 1922, researchers realized this compound had antioxidant and anti-aging properties, which pushed thousands of people to consume it in large quantities. But do you know exactly what its function is?
In reality, vitamin E has as many advocates as it does critics. While many highly appreciate its anti-free radical effects, some experts openly distrust these compounds. Keep reading our article, and you'll learn all there is to know about vitamin E.
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection: The best vitamin E supplements
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything you need to know about vitamin E
- 4.1 What is vitamin E exactly?
- 4.2 What is the function of vitamin E?
- 4.3 How does the body absorb vitamin E?
- 4.4 What other factors affect my vitamin E levels?
- 4.5 What foods are rich in vitamin E?
- 4.6 What are the benefits of having healthy vitamin E levels?
- 4.7 Who should take vitamin E supplements?
- 4.8 What types of vitamin E supplements are there?
- 4.9 Why are vitamin E supplements controversial?
- 4.10 What is the price range of vitamin E supplements?
- 4.11 What are the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency?
- 4.12 Who is at high risk of vitamin E deficiency?
- 4.13 What is the recommended dose of vitamin E?
- 4.14 What is the recommended dose for vitamin E supplements?
- 4.15 Can I take too much vitamin E?
- 5 Shopping Criteria
- 6 Summary
- Vitamin E eliminates free radicals from our body and prevents the creation of new oxidative compounds.
- It is found in foods rich in healthy lipids, such as avocados, seed oils and nuts.
- The most recent studies warn of potential side effects from taking high doses of vitamin E supplements over prolonged periods of time.
Our Selection: The best vitamin E supplements
If you truly want to take care of your health, it is essential for you to choose the right vitamin E supplement. This term actually encompasses a number of compounds that share similar structures but present different levels of effectiveness. In the following section, you'll discover our very own selection of the best vitamin E supplements available on the market right now.
Shopping Guide: Everything you need to know about vitamin E
What is vitamin E exactly?
Vitamin E includes eight antioxidant compounds that can be classified into two distinct groups: tocopherols and tocotrienols, each with four subtypes (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta). Alpha-tocopherol is the substance with the greatest antioxidant activity for humans, which is the reason why the term is often used as a synonym of vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble compound. This is why you need to take it together with fatty foods that will favor its absorption. A diet low in healthy fats will lead to a decrease in vitamin E levels, impairing the function of the nervous system, blood clotting and immunity.
What is the function of vitamin E?
This anti-free radical property allows vitamin E to slow down the aging linked to oxidation in different parts of the body. If you want to know more about this complex topic, here's a table that'll give you some information:
|Alpha tocopherol||Metabolism||It prevents the formation of free radicals.|
|Gamma tocopherol||Metabolism||It captures and eliminates free radicals.|
|Alpha tocopherol||Coagulation||It inhibits platelet aggregation (it opposes thrombosis).|
|Gamma tocopherol||Cardiovascular||It promotes the formation of nitric oxide (vasodilator).|
|Alpha, beta, gamma, and delta-tocotrienol||Cardiovascular||It inhibits the synthesis of cholesterol.|
|Alpha, gamma and delta-tocopherol||Immune||It stimulates tumor suppressor genes.|
|Gamma and delta-tocopherol||Immune||It stimulates apoptosis (programmed death) of diseased cells.|
|Any vitamin E compound||Vision||It preserves the crystalline lens transparent for longer.|
|Any vitamin E compound||Brain||It protects neurons and prevents the accumulation of harmful compounds.|
|Any vitamin E compound||Immunity||It stimulates the synthesis of new lymphocytes (white blood cells).|
In a nutshell, the compounds that are part of the vitamin E group provide stability and resistance to different tissues. This positively affects the homeostasis (balance of metabolism) of the entire organism. Stabilising cell membranes, for instance, will improve the condition of our skin, hearts, and bones.
How does the body absorb vitamin E?
The nutrients that belong to the vitamin E group are fat-soluble. Much like vitamins A, D and K, the nutrient needs to be dissolved in lipids for the body to assimilate it. You only need to ingest a very small amount of fat (3 g) to ensure that you correctly absorb vitamin E.
What other factors affect my vitamin E levels?
- Bile salts: Synthesised by the liver and stored by the gallbladder, the bile is essential for our digestion and absorption of fats. Adequate levels of this substance will favour the absorption of vitamin E.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is another antioxidant compound that helps to recycle the alpha-tocopherol found in the organism, allowing vitamin E to perform its functions for longer.
- Alcohol: Studies have proven that people who abuse alcohol, a compound with oxidising properties, have lower levels of vitamin E despite consuming the recommended amounts of this vitamin.
- Tobacco: Like alcohol, tobacco is composed of different toxins that accelerate the oxidation of body tissues. Vitamin E will attempt to counteract this harmful effect, therefore being consumed at a faster rate than normal.
If you want to preserve your alpha-tocopherol reserves, you are encouraged to stop using tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. You can maintain healthy vitamin E levels by increasing your vitamin C intake. For example, you can introduce fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet.
What foods are rich in vitamin E?
We've designed a list of foods rich in vitamin E in the table below. We've also indicated which foods need to be ingested with a small amount of extra fat in order to be absorbed correctly. Keep in mind that this compound is fat-soluble and needs to bind to lipids to be assimilated.
|Food||Approximate concentration (mg)||Do I need extra fat?|
|Wheat germ oil (1 tablespoon)||20||No|
|Sunflower seeds (28 g)||7.4||No|
|Sunflower oil (1 tablespoon)||5.6||No|
|Almonds (28 g)||6.8||No|
|Peanut butter (1 tablespoon)||1.5||No|
|Boiled spinach ( ½ serving)||1.9||Yes|
|Boiled broccoli ( ½ serving)||1.2||Yes|
|Kiwi fruit (one medium fruit)||1.1||Yes|
|Fortified milk (one glass)||0.5-2||No|
You can use some sunflower oil to give flavour to all your broccoli and spinach recipes. This will also help you increase the amount of vitamin E available in a single dish. To prepare desserts rich in antioxidants, simply add some fruits with a high concentration of alpha tocopherols, such as kiwi fruits.
What are the benefits of having healthy vitamin E levels?
- Improved memory and concentration in the elderly
- Relief of the symptoms of anemia
- Greater energy input
- Relief from menstrual cramps
- Improvement of skin and hair appearance
- Increased male and female fertility
- Faster healing following cataract or myopia surgery
- Increased resistance and physical strength
- Relief of joint pain linked to rheumatoid arthritis
- Improvement of vision
- Prevention of atherosclerosis
- Protection against sunburn and photoaging
Cases of ataxia and neuronal degeneration that are linked with severe vitamin E deficiency will also respond favorably to the administration of this compound.
That being said, this should be supervised by a health professional, as it will require higher doses than those presented in this article.
Who should take vitamin E supplements?
First of all, people with a medical condition such as intestinal malabsorption will need an extra intake of vitamin E. In this case, the doctor should be in charge of administering this supplement. Some individuals also follow a diet very low in healthy fats.
It has been shown that supplementing with vitamin E could benefit people affected by macular degeneration (a degenerative disease that causes impaired vision). On the other hand, people who want skin free of wrinkles and expression lines can take this supplement or apply it as oil on the skin.
What types of vitamin E supplements are there?
- Natural vitamin E (RRR-α-tocopherol): This molecule comes from natural sources, and has a structure identical to that of alpha-tocopherol found in foods. This is why it has a high absorption rate. This type can be more harmful than beneficial depending on your vitamin E needs, as you could over-supplement.
- Synthetic vitamin E (all-rac-α-tocopherol): This compound is manufactured in laboratories. Its structure is different from that of vitamin E present in foods. For this reason, it is not as well absorbed. This makes it much more difficult to consume an excessive amount, and it is the form most recommended by experts.
Please note that you also have to consider the route of administration of your supplement. The effects mentioned so far correspond to those of food supplements, but vitamin E is also available in the form of oil on the market. Topical use of this compound can help you treat scars, blemishes, and wrinkles.
Why are vitamin E supplements controversial?
These studies have reported several cases of increased mortality in people supplementing with vitamin E — regardless of whether the origin of the supplement is natural or synthetic. Upon reviewing these publications, we've designed a list of people for whom vitamin E supplements would be contraindicated:
- People with a history of prostate cancer
- Individuals with a history of cerebral infarction
- People who do not control their diabetes well
- Malfunctioning heart or coronary disease
- Vitamin K deficiency
- Head and/or neck cancer
- People who are undergoing surgery in the next few days
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
If you belong to any of the groups mentioned above, please check with your doctor before taking any vitamin E supplements. Remember that this increased mortality rate occurred with people who supplemented themselves with very high doses of alpha tocopherol (300-500 IU daily). Vitamin E supplements are considered completely safe at the recommended dose (15 mg).
What is the price range of vitamin E supplements?
Vitamin E is generally dissolved in a gelatin capsule. The type of oil used — olive, soy, sunflower or palm — will also influence the final price. The more exclusive oils will naturally lead to a more expensive product. Vegan supplements are sold in tablet form and are cheaper, but their bioavailability is lower.
What are the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency?
- Mild anemia
- Nonspecific neurological deficits: lack of concentration and alterations in sensitivity
- Muscle aches
- Visual disturbances
- Increase of all oxidative processes: atherosclerosis and accelerated aging
- Male and female infertility
- Alterations of immunity and defence against infection
- Alterations in fetal development
The most severe signs and symptoms will appear when vitamin E levels reach very low levels — if you're suffering from intestinal malabsorption, for example. In this case, you may be exposed to a dangerous neurological condition known as ataxia, which will prevent you from coordinating muscle movements.
Who is at high risk of vitamin E deficiency?
- Abetalipoproteinemia: This rare disease prevents the absorption of fats in the digestive tract. Vitamin E also cannot be assimilated as it is dissolved in lipids.
- Liver and bile diseases: Bile is synthesised by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Altering any of these levels will affect the absorption of vitamin E and lead to a deficiency.
- Pancreatitis: The pancreas also generates enzymes necessary for the digestion of fats. If this organ fails, the absorption of tocopherols and tocotrienols will be impaired.
- Short bowel syndrome (SBS): Some diseases (such as Crohn's) or certain medical techniques (such as bariatric surgery to lose weight) decrease the length of the intestinal tract, causing vitamin E to be ineffectively absorbed.
- Cystic fibrosis: This disease causes the accumulation of secretions (including those necessary for the absorption of vitamins), thus preventing their proper use. This will lead to a vitamin E deficit in the long run.
Preterm newborns are also more likely to have excessively low vitamin E levels. In developing countries, this deficiency is directly linked to malnutrition, which is exceptionally rare in our society. An unhealthy lifestyle can also theoretically lead to vitamin E deficiency.
What is the recommended dose of vitamin E?
The recommended daily dose of vitamin E varies depending on gender and age, with higher vitamin E requirements for men and the elderly. You can check the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services regarding the recommended daily allowance below:
|Population group||Recommended daily allowance (RDA)|
|Infants, 0-6 months||6 mg (6.7 IU)|
|Infants, 6-12 months||5 mg (5.5 IU)|
|Girls and boys aged 1 to 3||6 mg (6.7 IU)|
|Girls and boys aged 4 to 10||9 mg (10 IU)|
|Girls aged 10 to 18||11 mg (12.2 IU)|
|Boys aged 10 to 18||13 mg (14.4 IU)|
|Adult women||11 mg (12.2 IU)|
|Adult men||13 mg (14.4 IU)|
The dose of alpha-tocopherol can be indicated in milligrams (mg) or in International Units (IU). IU refer to the activity and absorption capacity of the substance. The relationship between the vitamin milligrams and the IU will vary based on the type of tocopherol. As a general rule, 1 UI is equal to 0.9 mg.
What is the recommended dose for vitamin E supplements?
Certain diseases require much higher doses of alpha-tocopherol. For example, up to 22,000 milligrams may be prescribed for a short period of time after eye surgery. These extreme doses should be closely monitored at all times by a health professional to avoid potential side effects.
Can I take too much vitamin E?
This is why experts have defined upper limits that you should not exceed under any circumstances. Adults are not recommended to exceed intakes of 1,000 mg (or 1,500 IU) of alpha-tocopherol per day. Considering that the recommended daily dose is around 13 mg (20 IU), it would be almost impossible for you to accidentally exceed this limit.
Adding vitamin E supplements to your diet can be very beneficial. Simply keep in mind that you run the risk of exposing yourself to unwanted effects if you consume too much or a poor-quality product. In the following section, you'll learn about some key aspects that will help you find a safe, effective and affordable supplement:
- Pharmacological interactions
- Amount of vitamin E
- Vegan or vegetarian diet
- Origin of the raw material
- Value for money
Alpha tocopherol opposes mechanisms that promote blood clotting. This is why you should be very careful if taking medications with the same function. Anticoagulant drugs (such as Sintrom®, Adiro®, or Plavix®) can lead to unwanted bleeding when taken with vitamin E.
Various interactions between vitamin E supplements and other drugs have also been noticed. Please note that this will occur with dietary supplements and not with tocopherols found in your diet. We strongly encourage you to consult your doctor before supplementing if you take any of the following drugs:
- Drugs metabolised in the liver (such as certain analgesics, anxiolytics and antibiotics)
Amount of vitamin E
Most experts agree that products presenting very high doses of vitamin E (from 1,000 IU upward) are not necessarily better than those with more moderate dosing. You are encouraged to purchase a supplement that contains the lowest dose necessary to treat your deficiency, generally between 15 and 50 IU.
Another alternative that can be very beneficial to you is taking alpha-tocopherol in a multivitamin formula. These products tend to have moderate doses of vitamin E. Associating it with other vitamins such as A and C will also increase the antioxidant effect of alpha-tocopherol.
Vitamin E supplements may contain certain compounds capable of producing hypersensitivity or allergic reactions in predisposed individuals. If that is your case, make sure that the supplement you want to buy doesn't contain any components (such as gluten, lactose or soy derivatives) that may be harmful to you.
Vegan or vegetarian diet
High amounts of alpha-tocopherol are found in foods of plant origin. That being said, manufacturers now try to increase the bioavailability or absorption capacity of the product by adding vitamin E to an oily solution. This is then stored in gelatine capsules.
These capsules are generally made from bovine or porcine collagen and are therefore not suitable for vegetarian or vegan individuals. If you want to avoid consuming animal products, we encourage you to opt for gelatine-free supplements in the form of tablets or hard capsules. Vegan gelatin pearls are also available on the market.
Origin of the raw material
While the quality of alpha-tocopherol will not be affected by its origin, some controversy exists surrounding supplements that include palm seed oil. The cultivation of this plant causes deforestation of the largest forests of the planet, which is why many prefer to avoid consuming it.
You may be concerned about the origin of the raw material with which your supplement is manufactured, or by the working conditions of the people involved in that process. In that case, you can look for fair trade seals or directly contact the laboratories that work with the product before opting for a specific supplement.
Value for money
Vitamin E supplements tend to be very affordable. You can also find packages with hundreds of capsules, allowing you to supplement for months. Keep in mind that you shouldn't pay more for a product with a higher dose or advertising greater potency: you will only need a minimum dose of alpha-tocopherol.
Also known as alpha-tocopherol, vitamin E is an antioxidant essential for our well-being. While you are advised to follow a diet rich in healthy fats that provides a sufficient amount of this compound, you can supplement for a limited time as long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions.
We hope that our article will help you better understand this unique vitamin and the controversy that surrounds it. Use alpha-tocopherol wisely and you'll be able to improve your health while avoiding any potential side effects. As the saying goes, less is more when it comes to vitamin E.
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