Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin which is stored in the liver. Vitamin E is actually made up of a family of eight antioxidant compounds which are divided into two classifications known as tocopherols; alpha, beta, gamma and delta and tocotrienols (also alpha through to delta). Alpha tocopherol form is thought to be the most active form of vitamin E. Dietary sources include wheat germ, nuts, sees, egg yolk and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin E is easily removed from foods by processing. The Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) in the UK is 22.4IU (15mg) for both males and females.
Vitamin E serves as a powerful antioxidant which plays a role in cardiovascular health, adrenal function, nervous system, skin health and immunity.
Severe vitamin E is quite rare however low levels are common in conditions of fat malabsorption such as coeliac disease and cystic fibrosis. Low levels are also common in premature infants, blood disorders and patients receiving haemodialysis treatment. Symptoms of a deficiency may include nerve damage, muscle weakness, poor coordination, involuntary movement of the eyes and anaemia.
Cardiovascular Health- Due to the ability of Vitamin E in preventing blood platelets from clumping together, it is believed it may play a role in the prevention of heart attack or the development of blood clots in the veins (1). A number of studies have made a correlation between lower rates of heart disease with higher vitamin E status. One study involving 90,000 nurses found that the incidence of heart disease was 30% to 40% lower in those with the highest intakes of vitamin E, primarily from supplements (2). Furthermore, a study in Finland of 5,133 men and women over a period of 14 years showed a significant decrease in death rates form coronary heart disease in those with higher vitamin E intakes (3).
Age related Macular Degeneration- Nutrients with antioxidant function such as Vitamin E have been shown to be promising in terms of slowing down the progression of age related eye disorders such as macular degeneration. Studies have found a correlation with those who have high intakes of Vitamin E and a reduced risk of developing AMD (4), (5). The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) (6) found those who took a vitamin E supplement in combination with other antioxidant nutrients for a period of 5 years reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD by 25% compared to those taking a placebo (6). A follow up study known as AREDS 2 also confirmed similar findings (7).
Cognitive Function-It has also been suggested that antioxidant nutrients such as Vitamin E may provide some protection against cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (8). A clinical trial involving 341 patients with moderate Alzheimer’s disease showed a significant delayed functional deterioration in those who received treatment with vitamin E combined with a prescription drug known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor separately or combined compared to placebo (8). A further study of elderly individuals over 3 years showed an association between vitamin intake from foods or supplements and less cognitive decline (9).
Arthritis- Vitamin E contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress This is more commonly referred to as being an’ antioxidant’. This action may help to prevent damage caused by ‘free radicals’, which is thought to aggravate the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid and osteo-arthritis.
Alzheimer’s- Vitamin E contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress. There is some evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s may be associated with oxidative damage. Antioxidant supplements such as vitamin E may help to protect brain function in people that may be deficient.
Athletic performance and recovery- Vitamin E contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress. Some research suggests that vitamin E may reduce free radical activity and muscle damage caused by strenuous exercise. This can lead to a reduction in performance and slow recovery- preventing a deficiency may help to combat these effects.
Premature ageing and wrinkles – Vitamin E contributes to the protection of cells and oxidative stress. Premature wrinkles have been associated with the damage caused by free radicals, especially those that result from smoking and sun exposure. Many topical face creams contain vitamin E as it may help to reduce these effects.
Although Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin which means it is stored in the body, it is considered to be extremely safe. Studies of supplementation as high as 3,200IU daily over periods of up to 2 years have not been associated with any adverse effects or toxicity. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for Vitamin E is 1,000mg (1,500IU).