Remember: You Need Vitamin E

vitamin E pills

Clinical trials involving vitamin E supplementation have been mixed – some showed benefits, while others did not. Some trials even reported negative outcomes associated with taking vitamin E.

Is it time to ditch your vitamin E supplement?

Perhaps – but find out why first.

Although it wasn’t the first trial to show negative effects of these supplements, the SELECT cancer prevention study showed that men who took 400 IU of vitamin E each day had an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. Based on this and a few other quality studies, the Linus Pauling Institute ceased recommendations for high-dose vitamin E supplements.

But remember: no matter what a clinical trial on supplements shows us, vitamin E is still important for your health. It has important antioxidant roles in cell membranes that can affect the function of nerves and organs and mitigate oxidative stress throughout the body. E is also critical in brain development and, therefore, is especially needed during pregnancy. Research studies on Alzheimer’s disease, lung function, and risk for miscarriage have shown positive results with supplementation, but much of the data is preliminary and requires further evaluation.

At the LPI, Maret Traber, PhD explores the health effects and metabolic functions of vitamin E. Along with her collaborators at Tufts, Dr. Traber’s research team used a labeled version of the vitamin in collard greens to show that blood lipids – like cholesterol – can alter how long alpha tocopherol (one form of vitamin E) remains in the body.Maret Traber - goddess of vitamin E

Since it dissolves in fat, vitamin E normally travels with blood lipids into tissues. People with chronically high blood lipids have trouble clearing them – forcing vitamin E to remains in the blood stream. That sounds like a good thing until you think about where it is NOT going: if more E stays in the blood, less may be getting into tissues. This is especially problematic in people with metabolic syndrome, where high lipids are associated with inflammation, and a higher demand for antioxidants like vitamin E in tissues.

Vitamin E foodsThe current evidence suggests most people are not eating enough vitamin E. Estimates are that over 90% of the adults in the US do not reach the recommended levels of vitamin E per day in the food they eat to maintain good health. Children and teenagers are also falling short.

A change in the recommendations or recent headlines should no reason to avoid vitamin E.  The LPI supports the recommendation by the Institute of Medicine of obtaining 22.5 IU/day of alpha tocopherol. This can be achieved through eating rich food sources, including almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, olive oil, and vegetables that are naturally oily (like avocados).

However, if you aren’t eating enough E, you’re not alone. To make sure you get what you need, the LPI now recommends taking a multivitamin supplement containing 100% of the Daily Value for alpha tocopherol. Clinical trials like SELECT only saw negative health outcomes of vitamin E when far exceeding these levels, so the amount in many multivitamins is generally considered safe.

Along with other research topics, the LPI highlighted vitamin E in the 2015 Diet and Optimum Health conference. Top researchers in the field with breaking research on the subject, including Dr. Traber, discussed vitamin E’s role in stroke and metabolic syndrome, the prevalence of deficiency, and the interactions with vitamin C.

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Alexander Michels, PhD

Alexander Michels is a Research Associate and Communications Officer for the Linus Pauling Institute. He has an extensive background in the research on vitamin C, with a specialty in understanding vitamin C transport through the body. His expertise also extends to research on other aspects of antioxidant vitamin metabolism and the action of phytochemicals.