Vitamin E Supplements

Vitamin E in nature is great and fine. But vitamin E supplements is a bit controversial. Some studies suggests that they do good. And other studies suggests that they do harm. Shoudl you take vitamin E supplements or not? Whether you decide to take vitamin E supplements or not is up to you, but here is some information, opinions from authorities, and my personal opinion at the bottom.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant. Antioxidant help reduce oxidative stress by neutralizing damaging free radical molecules.

Animals studies indicated that topical application of vitamin E protects the skin against UV damage by free radicals. Vitamin E may be anti-carcinogenic because many toxins such as mercury, lead, etc produce its damage as free radicals. Vitamin E can help prevent certain types of cancers.

Vitamin E helps prolong the life of cells. Vitamin E protects the aging of red blood cells.

Vitamin E protects vitamin A and vitamin C from oxidation. It also help prevents polyunsaturated fats from going rancid.

Vitamin E protective against heart disease

Some studies indicate that vitamin E may be protective against heart disease.

In a 1993 large-scale Harvard study of 87,000 female nurses over 8 years showed that women with highest intake of vitamin E had a 36% lower risk of major coronary disease.

For men, a Physicians' Health Study followed 22,00 male physicians for four years. Those who consumed at least 100 IU of vitamin E for at least 2 years showed a 40% reduction in heart disease risk. [reference: The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book]

It might be that vitamin E helps prevent the good LDL cholesterol from being oxidized.

Vitamin E for Brain Health

Vitamin E may play an important role in the nervous system and may help slow mental decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's (especially when taken along with vitamin C). Many Alzheimer's researchers take vitamin E themselves. Others did animals studies where rats that were given vitamin E did better in mazes.

One study makes the following conclusion ...

"Use of vitamin E and vitamin C supplements in combination is associated with reduced prevalence and incidence of AD". Whereas they "saw no evidence of a protective effect with use of vitamin E or vitamin C supplements alone, with multivitamins alone, or with vitamin B-complex supplements". [reference: "Reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease in users in antioxidant vitamin supplements" ]

Other studies (such as in the article Vitamin C and Vitamin E for Alzheimer Disease) do not recommend taking vitamin E supplements for Alzheimer's and makes this conclusion ...

"In the absence of prospective, randomized, controlled clinical trials documenting benefits that outweigh recently documented morbidity and mortality risks, vitamin E supplements should not be recommended for primary or secondary prevention of AD. Although the risks of taking high doses of vitamin C are lower than those with vitamin E, the lack of consistent efficacy data for vitamin C in preventing or treating AD should discourage its routine use for this purpose."

The book, The Mood Cure, writes about vitamin E...

"This extraordinary antioxidant can cut your risk of stroke and cataracts by 40 percent! All of us need vitamin E to help protect our entire brain and body from the serious dangers of free radicals caused by rancid (oxidized) fats." [page 197]

Vitamin E Controversy

References in the media about the warnings of high-dose vitamin E may be referring to the Miller study published in titled "Meta-Analysis: High-Dosage Vitamin E Supplementation May Increase All-Cause Mortality" which says that vitamin E supplements may increase all-cause mortality.

However, the study itself notes the limitation of the study ...

"High-dosage (≥400 IU/d) trials were often small and were performed in patients with chronic diseases. The generalizability of the findings to healthy adults is uncertain. Precise estimation of the threshold at which risk increases is difficult."

and the study have been criticized by others such as the authors of "The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book" which says ...

"This study has been widely criticized by experts in the field of antioxidant research. ... it was poorly designed, and the conclusions were unfounded. For example, the studies included in this meta-analysis were interpreted incorrectly. The studies included were inconsistently designed, with various doses and endpoints ... The analysis failed to distinguish between the use of various forms of vitamin E and the use of synthetic forms of vitamin E in most trials." [page 107] says ...

"When obtained from food sources alone, vitamin E has no documented research of toxicity. Vitamin E supplements, when taken in very high doses of 3000 IU or more, have been shown to have toxic effects."

Natural Versus Synthetic Vitamin E Supplements

If you do buy vitamin E supplement, make sure you get the natural vitamin E which is labeled as "d-alpha tocopherol" as opposed to the synthetic form labeled as "dl-alpha tocopherol". This is a difference of just on letter. The "D" and the "L" are "handed-ness" of the element. The synethic process is not easily able to separate the two "hands", therefore they give both to you in the pill. But the body can only absorb the "D handed-ness" form (which is the form found in nature).

Hence the natural vitamin E has at least twice the bio availability than the synthetic form. Some say that the natural form is 8 times as potent. [ref: The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book]

Sometimes instead of "tocopherol", you might see "tocopheryl acetate" or "tocopheryl succinate". Tocopherol is slightly better absorbed than tocopheryl acetate which in turn is slightly better than tocopheryl succinate. But the significance of that is not great. Just get the "d" form instead of the "dl" form.

In scientific literature, "RRR-alpha-tocopheryl acetate" refers to the natural form and "all-rac-alpha-tocopheryl acetate" refers to the synthetic form.

Vitamin E in nature comes in eight different forms: alpha-toccopherol, beta-toccopherol, gamma-toccopherol, delta-toccopherol, alpha-tocotrienol, beta-tocotrienol, gamma-tocotrienol, and delta-tocotrienol. Our bodies adapted to seeing those forms in certain proportions. The economy vitamin E supplements comes in only one form. And when the body see a massive dose of one form, it may not be able to absorb the other forms.

If you get vitamin E supplements get the one that supplies all eight forms of vitamin E. You may also see "mixed tocopherols". They are preferred. It is believed these different forms have different beneficial effects on the body (although the most studied is the alpha-tocopherol). Mixed tocopherols means that it contains multiple forms of these vitamin E.

As for the dosage, around 400 IU is fine. Very high dosages may increase risk of bleeding. Consult with your doctor first if you have any medical condition or if you are taking medications. The reference RDAs are around 22 to 28 IU.

Tocotrienols Vitamin E

New evidence is coming out and new supplements too about the other form of vitamin E, the tocotrienols, which some say is even more potent of an antioxidant. There is an article about it on and you can learn more about tocotrienol in Wikipedia.

Vitamin E in Foods

Of course, the most natural form of vitamin E and the best form is that from real food. Many believe that it is vitamin E in foods (and not supplements) that are effective.

Reader's Digest Your Health says to get vitamin E from food and not to take vitamin E supplements...

"One study found that vitamin E from food -- but not supplements -- helps prevent Alzheimer's disease. ... Bottom line: Don't take it." [page 211]

Dr. Andrew Weil say that vitamin E is the one vitamin that has a difference between the natural form and the synthetic form. [reference: as seen on The Today Show]

The form of vitamin E that is found is foods is typically the gamma-tocopherol; whereas the form in supplements are typically alpha-tocopherol. [page 78 of Age-Proof Your Mind] Unfortunately, there are not that many foods that have significant source of vitamin E.

Some of the foods that does have good amounts are sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, swiss chard, turnip greens, papaya, chard, mustard greens, asparagus, bell peppers, and walnuts.

Avocados have a little bit of vitamin E in combination with vitamin C. A little bit meaning 1/5 of a medium avocado has 4% DV of vitamin E and another 4% of vitamin C.

Thoughts on Vitamin E

I used to take vitamin E supplements, but not any more. One of the reasons is that there are other more important supplements to take such as omega-3 and vitamin D and others (which I do take) and one can only take so many pills a day.

Other reason is that vitamin E in nature is too difficult to duplicate in pill form with its eight forms and proportions. I don't believe the supplement is as effective as it comes in nature.

Also, oncologist Dr. Donald Abrams in his video talk here says he stopped taking vitamin E, even though he had been taking the mixed tocopherols form of it.


Article written June 2011 and is only opinion at the time of writing. Author is not a medical professional and may receive revenues from display ads and links. This is not medical advice.

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