Vitamin E is a nutrient that occurs in eight fat-soluble forms; however, alpha-tocopherol is the only form that can be used by the body to reverse symptoms of vitamin E deficiency.
The main purpose of vitamin E in the body is to provide antioxidant properties which are used to ‘protect’ the body’s cells against free radicals and free radical damage. Free radicals refer to the molecules that are produced when the body breaks down food or is exposed to harmful pollutants, such as tobacco smoke, chemicals, or radiation. These free radicals have been linked to the development of several diseases including heart disease and cancer. Studies have shown that vitamin E has helped to lessen the effects of free radicals as well as reduce the production of free radicals in certain cases. Alongside this, vitamin E also improves immune function and has been seen to prevent the formation of blood clots in the arteries.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin E for healthy males and females age 14 and older is 15 milligrams per day or around 22 international units (IU). Vitamin E can be introduced into one’s body through several foods including nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. Green leafy vegetables have also been proven to provide significant amounts of vitamin E. However, the majority of vitamin E in the average human’s diet has been found to come from soybean, canola, corn and other vegetable oils. Some foods that have been found to provide high amounts of vitamin E include; wheat germ oil, dry roasted sunflower seeds, dry roasted almonds, and dry roasted hazelnuts. All of these are healthier options than vegetable oils.
Additionally, vitamin E can also be introduced into the body through the intake of dietary supplements. Most supplements that solely contain vitamin E provide 67 milligrams (100 IU) or higher of naturally occurring vitamin E, which is substantially higher than the RDA. However, upper intake levels of around 1,000 milligrams per day or 1,500 IU per day of the natural form of vitamin E have appeared to be safe for consumption in healthy adults.
Due to the considerable presence of vitamin E in several different types of foods and supplements, a deficiency is quite unlikely. Vitamin E deficiencies are most often caused by malnutrition and genetic defects which negatively impact the transportation of alpha-tocopherol and lipoproteins within the body.
Additionally, individuals with digestive disorders which affect one’s ability to properly absorb fat such as pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, etc. are more at risk for a vitamin E deficiency because vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient. Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include but are not limited to; retinopathy (damage to the eye’s retina resulting in impaired vision), peripheral neuropathy (damage to the peripheral nerves, often those in the hands or feet resulting in weakness or pain), ataxia (loss of control of body movements) and decreased or impaired immune function.
Many benefits have been found in regards to the ability of Vitamin E to prevent and control the development of specific diseases. The Nurses’ Health Study, as well as the Health Professionals Study, have found that individuals who consumed vitamin E supplements containing around 400 IU for a minimum of two years saw a decrease from 20 to 40% in their risk of heart disease. Furthermore, the Women’s Health Study has found that vitamin E intake through supplements of 600 IU taken every other day by women were linked to a 24% decrease in risk of cardiovascular death. Additionally, it was also found that women over the age of 65 saw a 26% reduced risk of cardiac events which was linked to vitamin E supplementation.
Moreover, a study that followed slightly under 1 million people over a 16-year period found that individuals who regularly consumed vitamin E supplements documented a lower risk of dying from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). A combined analysis also found that individuals who took vitamin E supplements for longer periods of time observed a decrease in their risk for ALS. This research suggests that vitamin E is beneficial in terms of preventing ALS and mortality, however, more research is required into this matter.
Alongside providing health benefits, vitamin E also provides several benefits to the skin. Vitamin E is composed of a group of molecules, and some of these molecules have been proven to have beneficial properties for the skin. Most often, vitamin E is provided to the skin through the sebum. However, topical application of vitamin E can be extremely beneficial to the skin as it may provide distinct forms of vitamin E that are not readily available from one’s diet. Vitamin E has been found to absorb energy produced from ultraviolet (UV) light, causing it to be a pivotal nutrient used in photoprotection; which is the biochemical process used to combat the negative effects of chronic sun exposure. Vitamin E has also been proved to reduce inflammation, causing the skin to look younger.
The amount of vitamin E in the skin in humans is higher in the ‘epidermis’ as opposed to the ‘dermis.’ The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin and the dermis is the layer beneath the epidermis. Vitamin E is initially found in the sebaceous gland (a gland beneath the skin’s surface that opens into a hair follicle) where it is then transported to the surface of the skin by the sebum. As a result of this, individuals with high sebum production or those who have skin types which produce larger amounts of sebum (i.e., individuals with oily skin on their face and dry skin on their arms) may find that they have increased amounts of vitamin E on the skins surface.
Constant exposure to UV rays, as well as aging, can result in decreased amounts of vitamin E in the skin.
Vitamin E can often be found in a cream form as well as in an oil form. Topical applications of vitamin E allow for it to permeate through the epidermis and the dermis. Extremely small concentrations of vitamin E, ranging from as low as 0.1% have been found to drastically increase the amount of vitamin E levels in the skin if applied topically as the vitamin E is likely accumulating in the sebaceous gland.
Several cosmetic products make use of the amazing properties of vitamin E in their anti-aging creams, eye serums, sunscreen, and makeup. However, exposure to UV light can dissipate vitamin E from the skins surface, therefore, it is often recommended to use vitamin E alongside vitamin C to increase the efficacy.
Many moisturizers make use of vitamin E as its moisturizing properties assist in preventing and treating dry and flaking skin. Furthermore, topical applications of vitamin E before exposure to UV rays have been found to increase photoprotection as it reduces skin damage as well as chemical and structural changes to the skin induced by prolonged UV exposure. Applying topical forms of vitamin E immediately after UV exposure has also been found to prevent skin swelling and thickening which is a common effect of UV radiation.
In addition to increasing photoprotection in the skin, vitamin E has many anti-inflammatory effects. Several reports mention the use of vitamin E alone or alongside vitamin C or vitamin D being used to successfully treat chronic inflammatory skin conditions. Moreover, some smaller studies have indicated that the use of topical vitamin E can improve the skins ability to bind to water molecules allowing the skin to stay hydrated for longer periods of time.
Vitamin E plays an integral part in improving the body’s immune function and protecting the body from free radicals which in turn prevent the development of several diseases. Vitamin E can be naturally introduced into the body through the consumption of nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. Additionally, vitamin E supplements are also available to introduce vitamin E into the body is a consistent dosage.
Vitamin E has been linked to decreasing the risks of heart disease, cardiovascular death as well as ALS. Alongside its several health benefits, topically applied vitamin E also plays an active role in providing anti-inflammatory properties to the skin as well as protecting the skin from harmful UV rays.