There is much controversy about the role of Vitamin E in the prevention or treatment of disease. Perhaps the most important function of Vitamin E is its action as an anti-oxidant in preventing peroxidation of fatty acids in the phospholipids in cell membranes.1 However, it has other important functions such as quenching singlet oxygen molecules and the termination of chain reactions.1 Tissues rely on Vitamin E as its only defense to prevent oxidative tissue damage.1
I remember years ago that Vitamin E was hailed as an essential supplement to prevent cardiac disease and it seemed as if everyone was taking it! However, recent studies have not been able to confirm this theory with controlled trials.1 Similar studies have been conducted on Vitamin E and its potential to reduce risk of cancer, improve eye health, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neuro-generative diseases, but researchers have come to the same conclusion as with the studies on cardiovascular disease that there is no substantial evidence that Vitamin E prevents or aids in the treatment of these disorders.1 The weakness in these studies lies in the fact that there are no validated biomarkers for testing Vitamin E intake and status making it difficult to relate to an outcome.2 The population that was tested in the HOPE-TOO trial and in the Woman’s Health study selected elderly subjects had co-morbidities of heart disease or diabetes.2
Perhaps another study on a younger population without a co-morbidity for a longer period of time would produce different results on prevention of developing cardiovascular disease. However, at the present time in lieu of recent studies that failed to show that Vitamin E is effective in preventing or treating any of the before mentioned conditions, and has actually shown that Vitamin E supplementation may increase risk of morbidity or mortality, it is not recommended to supplement a nutrient-rich diet with synthetic forms of Vit E.1
Vitamin E is the least toxic of the fat-soluble vitamins. Other than mild GI intolerance in doses of 200-800IU, abnormal bleeding can be a concern when supplementing Vitamin E due to its anti-platelet activity.1 Taking Vitamin E along with anti-platelet medications (warfarin or clopidogrel) or aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding, especially in doses > 400IU. 2
There is no doubt that Vitamin E in the diet is essential for our health and well-being and should be considered when choosing a well-balanced diet. Three national surveys: NHANES 2001-2002, NHANES III (1988-1994), and the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (1994-1996)- revealed that the diet of most Americans did not meet the RDA standards for Vitamin E.2
The federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggests that “nutrients should come primarily from foods. Foods in nutrient-dense, mostly intact forms contain not only the essential vitamins and minerals that are often contained in nutrient supplements, but also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects…”2
Good food sources of Vitamin E are: green leafy vegetables, whole grains, milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts, vegetable oils.2 Educating our clients on the importance of including a variety of these foods in their diet is essential to enable them to achieve optimal health!
The more recent studies of Vitamin E have been done on a special class of Vitamin E called tocotrienols. The studies are promising in that tocotrienols actually lower LDL, raise HDL, and lower cardiovascular disease. I like to recommend to my clients to add Palm Oil in their diet as a rich natural source of tocotrienols. However, if it is easier to take the supplement it is also available in supplement form.
- Gropper, S. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, Sixth Edition. Wadsworth, Belmont CA. Ch. 10.