Vitamin E is the collective term given to a group of fat-soluble compounds first discovered in 1922. These compounds have distinct antioxidant activities and are essential for health. Vitamin E is present in fat-containing foods and can be stored within the fatty tissues of animals and humans (1). Its antioxidant activity gives it numerous important roles within the body
Vitamin E in Disease Prevention
Vitamin E has been found to be effective in the prevention and reversal of numerous disease complications due to its function as an antioxidant, its role in anti-inflammatory processes, its inhibition of platelet aggregation, and its immune-enhancing activity.
Here we’ll look at some beneficial effects of vitamin E.
Vitamin E – A Powerful Antioxidant
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that inhibits the production of reactive oxygen species when fat undergoes oxidation. It is primarily located in the cell membranes where it can protect the cells from free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause oxidative stress and damage to the cells. Free radicals may come from pollution or UV rays but are also formed during normal bodily processes such as the conversion of food to energy. Oxidation has been linked to numerous conditions and diseases including cancer, arthritis, cataracts and the signs and symptoms of aging. Vitamin E has been shown to be effective against such diseases where oxidation is an underlying factor (1).
Vitamin E and the Immune System
Vitamin E deficiency has been shown to impair normal functioning of the immune system (2), while vitamin E supplementation enhances the function of the immune system and reduces the risk of respiratory infections, asthma and viral infections (2,3). A daily intake of 200 mg of vitamin E improves the antibody response to some vaccines (1).
Vitamin E and Heart Health
Cardiovascular complications arise due to the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins and the consequent inflammation. Vitamin E may reduce these complications with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Vitamin E inhibits injury from heart attacks, reduces oxidative stress and inflammation, and ultimately preserves cardiac function following a heart attack (4).
Excessive platelet aggregation can lead to atherosclerosis. An increase in the concentration of vitamin E in the endothelial cells has been found to inhibit platelet aggregation thus protecting against atherosclerosis (1).
Vitamin E and Cataracts
Cataracts are one of the commonest causes of vision loss in older people. Cataracts occur due to the accumulation of proteins damaged by free radicals in the eyes. Research has found that lens clarity is superior in participants who take vitamin E supplements and those with higher blood levels of vitamin E (1).
Vitamin E and Alzheimer’s Disease
Oxidation is an underlying factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin E may slow disease progression in patients with moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease. High plasma levels of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease in older patients (1).
Vitamin E and Skin Health
As a fat soluble antioxidant vitamin E is protective and healing to the skin. Serum vitamin E levels are found to be lower in patients suffering from vitiligo, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and acne (5).
In addition vitamin E has also been found to play a beneficial role in other diseases, such as photodermatitis, menstrual pain, pre-eclampsia, asthma, allergies and diabetes.
It’s worth remembering that nutrients work in synergy with each other; vitamin E is heavily dependent on vitamin C, vitamin B3, selenium and glutathione to be truly effective.
Vitamin E Deficiency
Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include muscle weakness, vision problems, immune system changes, numbness, difficulty in walking, tremors and a poor sense of balance. Vitamin E deficiency can also cause anaemia due to oxidative damage to the red blood cells (1).
Vitamin E is protective to:
- The immune system
- The cardiovascular system
- The brain
- The eyes
- The skin
It is recommended that patients taking other medications should not take vitamin E without consulting a doctor as in high doses it can interact with medications, including those prescribed to lower cholesterol.
- Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2014 May; 14(2): e157–e165. The Role of Vitamin E in Human Health and Some Diseases. Rizvi S et al.
- IUBMB Life. 2019 Apr;71(4):487-494. Regulatory role of vitamin E in the immune system and inflammation. Lewis ED et al.
- IUBMB Life. 2019 Apr;71(4):411-415. Vitamin E - The Next 100 Years. Khadangi F, Azzi A.
- Redox Biol. 2019 Sep;26:101292. α-Tocopherol preserves cardiac function by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in ischemia/reperfusion injury. Wallert M et al.
- PLoS One. 2021 Dec 14;16(12):e0261259. Serum vitamin E levels and chronic inflammatory skin diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Liu X et al.