Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, which means it requires an adequate healthy fat intake (along with sufficient bile salts from the gallbladder) in order to be absorbed in our small intestines. It can also be partially absorbed by our skin. It is then taken to the liver to be used or stored. However, it’s not stored as effectively as the other fat soluble vitamins (A, D, and K), with up to 50% possibly being excreted in our feces.
It is made up of two families of compounds, the tocopherols and the tocotrienols, with D-alpha-tocopherol being the most potent.
Benefits of Vitamin E
Vitamin E’s primary function is as an antioxidant. It reduces lipid (fat) oxidation as well as the breakdown or other nutrients by oxygen in our body. Its effects are also enhanced by the presence of other antioxidants, like those from vitamin C, beta-carotene, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, and selenium. Oxidation is a process that creates free radicals that leads to inflammation in the body and can cause diseases like atherosclerosis, heart disease, hypertension, and arthritis.
Vitamin E also helps stabilize our cell membranes (which are constructed mainly from fats) and helps protect the tissues of our skin, eyes, liver, lungs, breasts, and testes, which are more sensitive to the effect of oxidation.
It has also been shown to reduce platelet aggregation and adhesiveness to collagen both of which are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.
Its useful to increase consumption or supplementation before and after surgery (in consultation with your medical practitioner), due to its effects on healing and decreasing chances of blood clotting. It is also helpful in minimizing the appearance of scars.
Some claim (without solid scientific evidence) that vitamin E can improve fertility. It may also help reduce the symptoms of menopause.
Depletion, Deficiency, and Toxicity
A deficiency in vitamin E is fairly rare, but also difficult to diagnose since it is tied to vague symptoms. However, deficiency tends to be more common in people with gastrointestinal disease, poor fat digestion and metabolism (or those who have had their gallbladder removed), or pancreatic insufficiency.
People with diets high in possible rancid fats (a.k.a. consuming a high quantity of vegetables oils and fried foods) will need a higher intake of vitamin E, as well as those with high estrogen levels or those exposed to high levels of pollution.
Toxicity of vitamin E is fairly unlikely since it is not as readily stored in our body as the other fat soluble vitamins (A, D, and K).
However, a high intake can cause symptoms like nausea, diarrhea or gas, and immune system suppression.
Dietary Sources of Vitamin E
The best sources of vitamin E are plant-based. Some sources are coming from plant-based oils, however the vitamin E content of these may vary as it can be used up by the oil during its processing in order to stop the oxidation (/rancidification) process.
Sources of vitamin E are:
nuts & seeds and their natural, cold-pressed oils (used raw / cold)
wheat germ oil, safflower oil, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, brazil nuts
some uncooked veggies
green peas, spinach, celery, kale, cucumber, tomato, asparagus
mango & kiwi fruit
some animal products like butter, egg yolks, milk fat, and liver
Vitamin E supplements shouldn’t be taken at the same time as iron as it decreases absorption. Supplementation should be done in consultation with a medical practitioner, especially when on other medication (like blood thinners)
The RDA for vitamin E for men and women over 14 is 15mg / 22IU per day.
Still have some lingering questions about vitamin E? Leave a comment below!