The Importance of Vitamin E: Part Two
The Importance of Vitamin E: Part 2
Wherein we continue to look at more modern research on vitamin E, and explore what a therapeutic dose might be.
Vitamin E proved to be more effective than a prescription drug for treating chronic liver disease (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a common liver disease that can progress to cirrhosis). (Source)
The prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is on the rise due to the epidemics of obesity and diabetes, and widespread vitamin D deficiency. In this study “adjuvant vitamin E therapy provides significant biochemical and histological improvements in adult patients with NAFLD”, though it did not prove helpful in children. (Source)
Recently, it has been suggested that vitamin E may also regulate gene expression. A team of researchers found that “lifelong dietary vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) supplementation significantly increased median lifespan in C57BL/6 mice by 15%. This lifespan extension appeared to be independent of any antioxidant effect”. (Source)
As I mentioned earlier, newer research often looks at the overlooked components of vitamin E, the tocotrienols, and the tocopherols other than alpha, especially gamma tocopherol. Gamma tocopherol was believed to perhaps have a unique mechanism relevant to preventing lung cancer.
So researchers looked at just over 1,000 lung cancer cases, compared with 1,400 healthy matched controls, examining “the associations between 4 tocopherols (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol) in the diet and lung cancer risk. When we entered the other tocopherols in our model, only the association with dietary alpha-tocopherol intake remained significant; i.e., increasing intake of dietary alpha-tocopherol accounted for 34-53% reductions in lung cancer risk”. (Source)
Another study revealed that “increasing vitamin E with supplements prevents COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis)”. (Source)
Vitamin E is our major fat-soluble antioxidant which protects skin from the adverse effects of oxidative stress. “In animal models, vitamin E deficiency resulted in skin ulcerations and changes in skin collagen cross-linking. In humans, deficiency in vitamin E from the diet has been shown to also cause skin anomalies. With respect to photoaging, Thiele et al. showed that exposure to a single dose of solar simulated ultraviolet light dose dependently depleted the SC (the most superficial portion of the epidermis) concentrations of α-tocopherol in mice by 85%.”
“Skin collagen cross-linking” is what produces facial wrinkles, so it makes sense that even the topical use of vitamin E “has been reported to prevent premature aging, expand the capillaries, resulting in an increased blood flow in the scalp, and moisturize the hair”. (Source)
The results of this study surprised me as I have never before seen an association between vitamin E and sleep disorders.
“This double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was conducted to evaluate the potential of vitamin E to treat chronic insomnia as an alternative to sedative drugs and hormonal therapy. The study enrolled 160 postmenopausal women with chronic insomnia disorder, divided randomly into two groups. The vitamin E group received 400 units of mixed tocopherol daily, while the placebo group received an identical oral capsule. This study demonstrates vitamin E’s potential as an excellent alternative treatment for chronic insomnia disorder that improves sleep quality and reduces sedative drug use.” (Source)
How Much Vitamin E?
According to Health Canada, the RDA for vitamin E for people aged 14 years and over, including pregnant women, is 15 mg/d of alpha-tocopherol. This is equivalent to 22 IU (International Units) of natural source vitamin E per day. The RDA for breastfeeding women is 28 IU natural vitamin E.
While this seems to be an awfully low amount they do state that “the tolerable upper intake level for adults is 1,000 mg per day of any form of vitamin E supplements” (natural or synthetic). This amount is equal to 1490 IU. (Health Canada)
So, while the recommended amount is something I would disagree with, they clearly do not believe that high doses are dangerous.
In the field of nutrition most people are recommended to take between 200 and 800 IU daily, though many naturopaths may recommend even more than that.
A review of all the scientific literature on vitamin E concluded that “the safety of oral intake of vitamin E indicated that the toxicity of vitamin E is low. Animal studies showed that vitamin E is not mutagenic, carcinogenic, or teratogenic. In human studies with double-blind protocols and in large population studies, oral vitamin E supplementation resulted in few side effects even at doses as high as 3200 USP-units/day” (3200 IU/d). (Source)
That being said, such literature also indicates that there can be a risk of excess bleeding with doses higher than 1000 mg (1490 IU) daily, or if one is using blood thinning medications. (Consult with a health professional if you are on such medications and wish to take doses higher than 400 – 800 IU daily.)
But even with this risk factor, “an upper limit for vitamin E has been set for adults 19 years and older of 1000 mg daily (1490 IU) of any form of tocopherol supplement”. (Source)
It is worth mentioning here that selenium recharges vitamin E, recycling it and effectively making it more potent. For example: “In the present study, we report that vitamin E combined with selenium inhibited atherosclerosis more effectively than did vitamin E alone.” (Source)
In my newsletter, mentioned at the beginning of Part One (Refuting the Prostate Cancer and Vitamin E Study), I explain why the preferred choice in a selenium supplement is one that is derived from yeast (like the trademarked SelenoExcell; or even a generic yeast-derived selenium). The long and short of it being that this form has a way better scientific track record than the older forms like selenium selenite, or the newer forms like selenomethionine.
There is another, very modern, reason for most of us to supplement with vitamin E, and that is to counteract the damage caused by excessive blue light exposure from digital devices.
Wavelengths in the UV radiation range are mostly absorbed by the cornea and lens, however the retina is exposed to visible light, including blue light. Studies have shown that blue light damages the retinal pigment epithelium and photoreceptors through generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and can lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
“Protection against the harmful effects of blue light is provided by the retinal antioxidant defense system, which includes antioxidant enzymes supported by vitamins C and E, lutein and zeaxanthin, and zinc. Lutein and zeaxanthin are highly concentrated in the macula, where they act as scavengers of reactive oxygen species and filter blue light.” (Source)
Another study “significantly showed that vitamin C and vitamin E can protect lens epithelial cultures from toxic stress by blue and by UV-A light and might delay cataract formation in man”. (Source)
The average multivitamin pill does not contain nearly enough vitamin E to meet our daily needs (excluding our NutriPods, which contain 400 IU of vitamin E succinate). I believe we all need at least 400 IU (at least 5 days a week), and, as the research has indicated, there is benefit to be had from simple alpha tocopherol, vitamin E with mixed tocopherols, or, in cases of illness, the more expensive products that provide a full spectrum of vitamin E components (all the tocopherols and all the tocotrienols). And, as always, remember that like all fat-soluble nutrients vitamin E must be taken with meals containing some fat, for optimal absorption.