Practical Vitamin E Health Benefits
Vitamin E health benefits don’t stop with improving hair and skin texture. The protective actions of vitamin E are many. This article covers the general health benefits of vitamin E as well as the more condition-specific actions of this compound.
Naturally occurring vitamin E is not actually a single compound. It is a collection of eight fat-soluble compounds. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored by the body for a time and retrieved for use later. Of the eight compounds, four are tocopherol isoforms and four are tocotrienol isoforms.
One of the tocopherol isoforms – alpha tocopherol – is the one that the human body needs and uses the most. Alpha tocopherol is the compound referred to in this article when discussing vitamin E.
It is found in the liver incorporated into lipoproteins that transport it through the blood to other tissues in the body. Lipoproteins are compounds composed of fats and proteins that transport fat through the blood. For example, LDL is the lipoprotein that transports cholesterol from the liver to the tissues, and that is why it is associated with heart disease.
The prominent beneficial action of vitamin E is its antioxidant activity. For example, fats in the body can be damaged through lipid peroxidation from free radicals, but vitamin E neutralizes the free radicals and stops lipid oxidation.
Vitamin E Deficiency
Serious vitamin E deficiency is quite rare. It can be caused by malnutrition or genetic defects that interfere with the transportation of fat-soluble compounds. People with fat malabsorption syndromes (where the body has a difficult time absorbing fats) are at risk for vitamin E deficiency.
The symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include muscle weakness, retinopathy, peripheral neuropathy and impaired balance and coordination.
Children are at higher risk for developing complications from vitamin E deficiency than adults, because they can develop a health condition that interferes with its absorption later in life.
Smoking can increase the risk of developing a deficiency as it uses up vitamin E to fight off higher levels of free radicals. Those on very low fat diets may also be more at risk. Though severe deficiency is rare, mild deficiency is very common and does not seem to carry serious risks for most adults.
Vitamin E Supplementation and Nutrition
Vitamin E health benefits can be reaped through eating a healthy diet containing green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, eggs, nuts and vitamin E fortified foods like many popular cereals.
Used with care, supplementation can also be a way to reap vitamin E health benefits, if you are unable to get enough from your diet.
In 2000, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) antioxidant panel on food and nutrition doubled their recommendation on the daily intake of natural vitamin E to 15 mg for both men and women. Natural vitamin E is significantly more potent than the synthetic type. To make sure you don’t ingest excessive amounts, their upper limit is 1000 mg per day.
Vitamin E Health Benefits
There are important vitamin E health benefits that inspired the NAS to double their daily recommendation.
Most of the benefits come from vitamin E’s antioxidant activity. Though many of the body’s natural functions produce free radicals for use in certain processes or as byproducts, excessive amounts of free radicals in the body cause damage. Free radicals can damage cell membranes, causing them to lose their nutrient-transporting function. Free radicals can also damage DNA, causing genetic mutations. The damage caused by free radicals can lead to many other problematic health conditions such as heart problems, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Antioxidants produced by the body or ingested can neutralize these free radicals. Antioxidants also have potent anti-aging properties, but to receive their full benefits, you would need to ingest 400 IU of vitamin E and 2000 mg of vitamin C a day. This is almost impossible through food alone, and so supplementation of both is the best option.
Vitamin E is an important compound for those who suffer from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), a condition where the adrenal glands and other bodily systems are unable to keep up with the body’s needs to cope with stress.
Some of the symptoms of AFS include:
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Lower sex drive
- Frequent colds and flus
- Food sensitivity
- Difficulty with focus and memory
- Easily gaining weight and difficulty losing it
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Mild depression
- Heart palpitations
- Blood pressure irregularity
AFS is a result of an over-stressed NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, which is a bodily system that connects several other systems in the body to respond to stressors, and has wide reaching effects should it malfunction. The NEM systems affect the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), and adrenal fatigue can have wide ranging effects on the functions that are controlled by the ANS. That is why AFS symptoms can be so many and so different.
In the advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which is part of the ANS, can become over stimulated. This response is usually a secondary one brought on by stress. The collection of symptoms that arise is called the Reactive Sympathoadrenal Response (RSR), which then floods the body with adrenaline and norepinephrine.
This increases heart rate, brings on anxiety and panic attacks, triggers heart palpitations, irritates the bowels, gives a feeling of being “wired and tired”, makes the heart beat stronger, causes bouts of hypoglycemia, makes one less tolerant to higher and lower temperatures, and leads to many other symptoms. Combined with tiredness and other issues, it is not unusual for those with adrenal fatigue to experience a mild depression.
Vitamin E Health Benefits for AFS
A study from Ireland showed one of the health benefits of vitamin E is its capability to raise the levels of polyunsaturated fats in the blood, including omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have many positive effects on the symptoms experienced by sufferers of AFS including:
- Increasing serotonin and dopamine levels for mild depressions
- Stabilizing blood pressure and heart palpitations
- Improving focus, memory, and alleviating brain fog
Antioxidant health benefits of vitamin E can neutralize free radicals and protect cells and their constituents from oxidative damage. This is an especially useful action in improving some of the symptoms of AFS.
Accumulation of free radicals in the system can contribute to the decline of cognitive function over time, producing issues from brain fog to Alzheimer’s. Similarly, AFS sufferers experience difficulty concentrating, memory loss and a decline in other mental function. Brain fog, lack of focus, and an inability to conduct tasks with the same speed and quality as before is a frequent complaint.
In this way, a simultaneous occurrence of accumulated oxidative stress from free radicals and the presence of adrenal fatigue can compound difficulties in brain function. In such cases, adding a vitamin E supplement to the overall AFS health plan can help neutralize the oxidative stress and lessen the severity of brain fog and memory loss.
Vitamin E, Women’s Health, and AFS
With regards to women’s health and beauty, vitamin E has been known for its beneficial effects on hair and skin.
With AFS, estrogen dominance can become a chronic problem, where the estrogen levels are higher relative to the levels of progesterone in the body. Estrogen dominance can have many adverse effects on women’s health, including difficult and irregular menstruation, severe PMS, miscarriages, endometriosis, infertility, breast problems, fibroids, and increased breast cancer risk.
Adrenal exhaustion in women can also have what is sometimes called the masculinization effect, where androgen secretion begins to change secondary sex characteristics, and symptoms appear like acne, seborrhea, excess hair, hair loss, and skin discoloration.
These issues can be addressed by the most popular vitamin E health benefits:
- It can be applied to the scalp where it helps reduce inflammation, prevents tissue corrosion, and repairs damage to the follicles, encouraging hair growth.
- It’s antioxidant activity may help delay premature graying of the hair and aging of the skin.
- It helps produce collagen to make the skin more elastic and youthful.
- It can be used as a conditioner for hair when applied from root to ends.
- It reduces skin hyperpigmentation.
- It softens dry skin.
Cautions and Considerations
Although there are many vitamin E health benefits, they cannot alleviate the symptoms of AFS and other health conditions completely. Chronic ailments require a holistic approach with full medical supervision and professional advice. This is especially true if you are taking other medications or supplements, so it is best to have a medical professional guide you first before making the choice of what supplement to add to your regimen, how much and how often.
While there are many benefits to vitamin E, one must also be careful about potential adverse effects. It is not generally recommended for adults to take high dosage vitamin E supplements, especially not for prolonged periods of time, unless for specific purposes as advised by a professional.
There are some health risks associated with excessive intake of vitamin E supplementation, including:
- Increased risk of stroke with prolonged use
- Skin irritation with topical vitamin E
- Headaches and nausea from vitamin E overdoses
Used wisely, however, there are still many health benefits to taking vitamin E and ensuring you are getting adequate intake in your diet. It is an important antioxidant and can aid in improving many conditions.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.