What to Know About Vitamin E Supplements

vitamin E supplements
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Found naturally in some foods, vitamin E is known to play a key role in immune function and in certain metabolic processes. Since vitamin E is an antioxidant, it's also thought to fight oxidative stress due to free radicals (chemical byproducts shown to damage DNA).

Why Do People Take Vitamin E?

As an antioxidant, vitamin E supplements are often touted as a natural means of treating or preventing various diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as heart disease, age-related vision loss, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes.

Vitamin E is also applied topically on the face and body and is an ingredient in skin care products.

Although vitamin E is found naturally in a number of foods, some people take the supplement in an effort to boost their levels of this essential nutrient. Individuals with illnesses like liver disease or Crohn's disease may need extra vitamin E, however most people can achieve adequate intake through diet alone.

The Benefits of Vitamin E Supplements: Can It Help?

To date, large-scale trials on the health effects of vitamin E supplements have yielded mixed and often disappointing results. A number of studies suggest that vitamin E doesn't offer a significant health benefit and even has some notable adverse effects. For example, trials suggest that vitamin E may increase prostate cancer and colorectal adenoma and increase overall mortality. 

A 2005 report published in Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed 19 clinical trials (with 135,968 participants) on vitamin E and found that vitamin E supplements failed to reduce the risk of heart disease or cancer.

What's more, the report's authors determined that study members who received a placebo had a slightly longer lifespan compared to those who took high dose vitamin E supplements (400IU or higher). Some later analyses showed no effects of vitamin E supplementation on mortality.

Some studies, on the other hand, suggest that vitamin E supplements and a diet high in vitamin-E-rich foods (such as wheat germ oil, almonds, and sunflower seeds) may help reduce your risk of certain diseases.

For example, a 2015 report published in Public Health Nutrition examined previously published studies on the relationship between vitamin E and age-related cataracts and found that dietary vitamin E intake and supplementary vitamin E intake may be associated with a reduced risk of age-related cataracts.

Studies also suggest that vitamin E may benefit people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). For instance, a report published in Hepatology in 2015 analyzed previously published trials on the use of vitamin E compared to other treatments or a placebo in people with NASH. Researchers found that vitamin E improved ballooning degeneration and steatosis over a placebo.  

Forms of Vitamin E

Vitamin E comes in capsule (often called softgels), tablet, or liquid form. Some oils are intended for topical use only, so it's important to read the labels carefully.

Two types of vitamin E supplements are d-alpha-tocopherol (the natural form) and dl-alpha-tocopherol (the synthetic form).

People need more IU of synthetic alpha tocopherol from dietary supplements and fortified foods to obtain the same amount of the nutrient as from the natural form. Mixed tocopherols are also available.

Related: Food Sources of Vitamin E

Using Vitamin E Oil Directly on Skin

Vitamin E is widely said to reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks when the oil (from oil products or from gel capsules) is applied directly on the face and skin. When applied topically, it is said to help minimize scars by hydrating skin, inhibiting collagen synthesis, and reducing inflammation during the inflammatory phase of wound healing.

Further research is needed because some studies suggest that it may not help to speed healing. For example, a study published in Dermatologic Surgery found that vitamin E oil applied directly to skin didn't help to improve the appearance of scars. What's more, 33 percent of people who used it developed a common skin irritation known as contact dermatitis. 

Possible Side Effects

According to the NIH, high doses of vitamin E in supplement form may increase the risk of serious side effects, such as an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. 

In some cases, taking vitamin E supplements in high doses may cause adverse effects (including nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea). What's more, some research suggests that vitamin E supplements may lead to increased risk of heart failure and increased mortality.

Vitamin E can thin the blood and increase the risk of bleeding. It may interact with blood-thinning medications and supplements, such as warfarin, garlic, and gingko. It shouldn't be used within two weeks of surgery.

If you are undergoing cancer chemotherapy or radiotherapy, consult your oncologist before taking vitamin E.

Research hasn't found any adverse effects of vitamin E from food. 

Using Vitamin E Supplements for Health

If you're considering the use of vitamin E supplements for the prevention or treatment of any type of health condition, make sure to consult your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits. You should also talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms of vitamin E deficiency (such as muscle weakness, visual problems, and a poor sense of balance). 

Sources:

Baumann LS, Spencer J. The effects of topical vitamin E on the cosmetic appearance of scars. Dermatol Surg. 1999 Apr;25(4):311-5.​

Miller ER 3rd, Pastor-Barriuso R, Dalal D, Riemersma RA, Appel LJ, Guallar E. Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality. Ann Intern Med. 2005 4;142(1):37-46.

Singh S, Khera R, Allen AM, Murad MH, Loomba R. Comparative effectiveness of pharmacological interventions for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. Hepatology. 2015 Nov;62(5):1417-32. 

Zhang Y, Jiang W, Xie Z, Wu W, Zhang D. Vitamin E and risk of age-related cataract: a meta-analysis. Public Health Nutr. 2015 Oct;18(15):2804-14. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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