Vitamin E occurs naturally in many foods, is fortified into others and is also available as a supplement. It is a fat soluble vitamin, and has many antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from free radicals-molecules that contain an unshared electron. Free radicals damage cells and contribute to cardiovascular disease and cancer, they are caused by environmental factors like cigarette smoke, air pollution and ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Vitamin E helps to neutralize the their damaging effects.
The best food sources of Vitamin E are sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, peanut butter, hazelnuts and vegetable oils. There are smaller amounts of Vitamin E available in kale, spinach and other leafy greens.
Acute Vitamin E deficiency is very rare in healthy adults. Those who are at the highest risk are people who have problems absorbing fat into the digestive tract as Vitamin E is fat soluble. Severe Vitamin E deficiency causes problems with the immune system and nerve damage.
The primary benefits of Vitamin E are derived from its role as an antioxidant, its aiding in the anti-inflammatory process, and its ability to enhance immune function. It plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease, cancer, eye disorders and cognitive decline.
There is a large amount of evidence that Vitamin E can prevent or delay the onset of coronary heart disease. Vitamin E inhibits the oxidation of LDL or “bad cholesterol”, and it may help prevent blood clots that can cause heart attacks due to its role in improving blood flow. A large, multi year study found that rates of heart disease were 30% to 40% lower amongst those with the highest intakes of Vitamin E which came primarily in the form of supplements.
Antioxidants like those found in Vitamin E protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals, this damage can lead to the development of cancer. It may also protect against the formation of carcinogens in the stomach deriving from nitrites in the diet. Vitamin E’s role in the enhancing of the immune system also helps to deter the development of cancer.
Vitamin E may also be used in the prevention and treatment of aged related macular degeneration and glaucoma, diseases that are caused by the cumulative effects of oxidative stress. Antioxidant intake helps to alleviate and even reverse this accumulated stress.
Cumulative free radical damage to neurons contributes to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. This means that increased consumption of Vitamin E may lead to slower mental deterioration, but more studies are needed.
There are no known ill effects from consuming large amounts of dietary Vitamin E, however, too much supplemental Vitamin E has been shown to cause hermorrhaging in animal studies.