Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found in certain fatty and oily foods. Fats makes up about 90% of vitamin E and its main job is to work as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable entities (atoms) that injure cells eventually causing illness and aging. The damaged cells lead to chronic inflammation which is thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic conditions. Free radicals can form when the body digests food for energy. They also are formed by smoking cigarettes, being exposed to radiation or air pollution.
The body is constantly at war trying to control the harmful effects (tissue damage) that free radicals have on the lungs, vascular system, DNA and other parts of the body.
Antioxidants are compounds, vitamins and minerals that neutralize and remove free radicals from the body. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant needed in the diet and utilized by the body to combat the ill effects of free radicals.
Vitamin E is naturally found in foods such as nuts, sunflower seeds and vegetable oils. It requires fatty foods and bile, a fluid secreted by the liver, to be absorbed by the body. Once absorbed, vitamin E is stored in the liver and fatty tissues for future use
Functions: Vitamin E, as noted, is an antioxidant thought to help the immune system fight viruses and bacteria. It helps prevent blood clots because of its anticoagulant effects and seems to improve visual acuity and is important for reproduction.
Deficiency of vitamin E is rare in healthy individuals. Most often it’s associated with conditions affecting the digestion and absorption of fats or inadequate diet. People who have had weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery) might encounter vitamin E deficiency.
Persons with liver disease, gallbladder disease or those with malabsorption disorders such as cystic fibrosis, pancreatitis or Crohn’s disease, as well as premature infants, are at an increased risk to develop vitamin E deficiency. A diet very low in fat is the usual cause of this deficiency in developing countries.
Interactions: Vitamin E may interact adversely with cholesterol medications, seizure drugs, chemotherapy medications and other products. Vitamin E can increase the risk of bleeding in people taking aspirin or blood thinners (warfarin). Prior to surgery, vitamin E supplement should be discontinued since it can prolong the clotting time and predisposed to hemorrhage.
Vitamin E is an essential micronutrient needed by the body in small amounts for you to remain healthy. However, injudicious supplement use of this vitamin has had serious consequences. An alarming report published in JAMA in 2011 linked vitamin E to prostate cancer.
The study, “Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer,” evaluated a total of 35,533 healthy men, 50 years of age or older from 427 study sites in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
They were given 400 international units ((I. U.) of synthetic vitamin E every day for seven years. The startling conclusion was that they found a significant, 17% increase in prostate cancer in men who had taken Vitamin E compared to the placebo group.
Controversies continue to be debated concerning the usefulness of vitamin E supplementation. If the lab tests indicate a significant low level of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), the individual should be treated with vitamin E supplements. However, it is best to eat healthy foods first to satisfy your nutritional needs. In short, for the average person, the recommendation of many researchers is to just say no to vitamin E supplements.
- Traber MG. Vitamin E regulatory mechanisms. Annul Rev Nutr 2007
- Vitamin E; Natural medicines, Comprehensive Data Base, 2002
- NIH; Vitamin E; Office of Dietary Supplements; Aug 17, 2018
- Klein EA et al; Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT); JAMA, Oct 12, 2011
- NIH; Toxnet; Vitamin E; Dec. 23, 2015
This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.