Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that prevents free radicals from damaging cells in your body.
It's important for your immune system and the health of your brain, blood vessels, eyes, and skin.
Experts recommend 15 mg of vitamin E a day from sources like red bell peppers and avocadoes.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble mineral and antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables. It has a range of benefits from boosting the immune system to lowering your risk of developing select kinds of heart disease.
Here are seven science-backed benefits of vitamin E and tips to ensure you're hitting your daily dose.
1. Vitamin E may slow the aging process of cells
Vitamin E is an antioxidant, meaning it prevents free radicals from damaging cells. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules produced by chemical reactions in the body. They can also come from outside sources like cigarette smoke and air pollution. When free radicals damage cells, conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease may develop.
Free radicals reduce a cell's lifespan through a process called oxidative stress. The process of oxidative stress as it relates to aging is not clear. However, scientists do know that free radicals bind to cells in a way that causes damage to the protein and DNA inside. As an antioxidant, vitamin E neutralizes this threat.
A 2018 paper in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A found that among 1,002 patients with clinically confirmed cardiovascular disease, low vitamin E consumption was linked to increased cellular aging.
2. Vitamin E can help those with macular dysfunction
Macular dysfunction is a genetic eye disease, and in severe cases, it can result in vision loss. The condition occurs when the macula region - an oval-shaped area at the center of your eye - is damaged by free radicals.
Two clinical trials in 2006 with about 4800 participants found that vitamin E in combination with other nutrients could reduce the risk of vision loss by 19%. They also found that the vitamin E combo slowed the progression of macular dysfunction.
The study compared different supplements and how they affected the progression of macular dysfunction. The researchers found that a supplement containing 400 IU of vitamin E - along with other vitamins like zinc oxide, copper, vitamin C, and beta-carotene - reduced the possibility of a mild case of macular dysfunction developing into a severe case. Supplementation with only copper and zinc or antioxidants were not as effective.
It's important to note that vitamin E is best suited to prevent progression of the disease in those who already have it. It is not as effective at preventing age-related macular dysfunction in people who do not show symptoms of the disorder.
3. Vitamin E boosts immune system response
T cells are white blood cells that play a role in the immune system. There are two types of T cells: regulatory and cytotoxic. Regulatory T cells manage immune reactions to foreign particles and prevent autoimmune conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes. Meanwhile, cytotoxic cells attach to cells infected by bacteria and viruses and kill the cells.
"Vitamin E helps maintain the strength and vitality of T cell membranes, helps these cells multiply correctly, and communicate to other immune processes. T cells decrease with age, so maintaining optimal intake of this vitamin is important in maintaining a well-functioning immune system," Somer says.
A 2018 paper published in IUBMB Life found that vitamin E deficiency hindered immune response by altering the functions of T cells and antibody production. But, it also found that with vitamin E supplementation, these effects can be reversed.
Most research conducted on vitamin E's role in immune response has focused primarily on T cells. However, scientists believe vitamin E may regulate other types of immune cells too.
For more information, learn about how to boost your immune system.
4. Vitamin E may slow memory loss in individuals with Alzheimer's disease
Because the brain uses a lot of oxygen, it is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, says Debbie Petitpain, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Since vitamin E can prevent cellular damage caused by oxygen, it may help prevent cognitive decline
A 2014 study published in JAMA with just over 560 Alzheimer's patients found that having 2000 IU per day of alpha-tocopherol - a form of vitamin E - reduced functional decline. The study tested cognitive function with daily activity assessment. It's important to note that all participants had only mild cases of Alzheimer's.
5. Vitamin E may improve blood vessel health
Vitamin E plays a vital role in the production of red blood cells by protecting them from oxidative damage. Alongside vitamin K, it also helps expand blood vessels, which reduces the possibility of blood clots.
A 2007 paper published in Circulation found that in 213 patients who took 600 IU vitamin E daily, their risk of developing venous thromboembolism, a condition where a blood clot in the extremities travels to the lung, lowered by 21%.
While blood clotting is important because it slows bleeding after a cut or injury, it can be problematic when clots form in your blood vessels and then spread to the lungs or heart. This can lead to severe chest pain, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
A 2013 paper in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry assessed 15 healthy men and found that vitamin E protects against the development of impaired lining of blood vessels caused by hyperglycemia after eating. Vitamin E was effective in offsetting any spikes in blood pressure after eating, thus improving blood vessel health.
Another study conducted in 2013 assessed 30 smokers after they stopped smoking and began taking 500 mg of vitamin E daily. It found that vitamin E supplementation along with quitting nicotine, resulted in about a 19% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk. Those who took vitamin E supplementation saw reduced levels of inflammation and better vascular function compared to those who received a placebo.
6. Vitamin E may reduce premenstrual symptoms (PMS)
Vitamin E may even help reduce premenstrual symptoms (PMS) like anxiety, depression, cramping, and even cravings. A 2016 study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery involving 86 women found that vitamin E supplementation reduced premenstrual symptoms like anxiety and depression more than the placebo group or those taking vitamin D.
Meanwhile, a 2019 study with 210 female participants published in Obstetrics and Gynecology Science indicated that consuming vitamin E two days before menstruation through three days following may help alleviate menstrual cramps.
Vitamin E can even help with premenstrual cravings. A 2013 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that 75 women who consume between 150 to 300 IU of vitamin E a day experienced fewer cravings than normal during their period.
7. Vitamin E may prevent sunburn and UV damage
While Vitamin E cannot prevent sunburn on its own, it can be used alongside sunscreen for extra UV protection.
"For protection against photoaging of the skin and sunburns due to sun exposure, it is recommended to use sunscreen daily," says Olabola Awosika, MD, MS, a dermatologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. "Vitamin E can be used in conjunction with sunscreen to provide further benefit against oxidative damage from UV rays."
While multiple studies conducted in animals from the early 2000s found that topical use of vitamin E provided an increased protection against skin cancer and reduced skin problems like hyperpigmentation and inflammation, evidence remains unclear in humans.
However, a 2009 paper published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests that combining vitamin C and E with sunscreen may prevent ultraviolet-related damage in comparison to using sunscreen alone.
How to get enough vitamin E
According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, your daily recommendation of vitamin E varies according to age.
To ensure you're hitting daily recommendations, look for foods high in vitamin E. Some examples include:
Vitamin E supplements
While research shows vitamin E deficiency is uncommon, those struggling to meet daily recommendations should consider taking a supplement. A deficiency in vitamin E usually signals a more severe health problem, like cystic fibrosis or liver disease, so talk to your doctor before starting a supplement.
To avoid vitamin E toxicity, you should not consume more than 1,000 milligrams per day. Although rare, vitamin E toxicity can cause symptoms like nausea and fatigue. In more severe cases, it can lead to death.
"Vitamin E is very safe in a wide range of supplemental doses. The only somewhat common side effect of excess supplemental intakes is bleeding, but that happens at doses above 1,000 mg a day," says Somer.
When taken as a supplement, vitamin E increases the risk of bleeding because it reduces blood's ability to clot. Due to this bleeding risk, Somer suggests that those taking high doses of vitamin E discontinue use two weeks before surgery or extensive dental work.
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