Vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant, can only be obtained as a food supplement, but has widely-known health benefits for the skin, heart and brain. Deficiency of vitamin E is rarely naturally-occurring, but when it does appear, it is typically caused by fat malabsorption disorders or genetic abnormalities. Vitamin E is well-known in the cosmetic world for its skin benefits, but also protects against toxins that can deteriorate the eyes and brain.
Types of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is divided into two categories: tocopherols and tocotrienols. These two categories are further divided into alpha (α), beta (β), gamma (γ) and delta (δ) vitamers. Alpha-tocopherol is the most-studied but according to Tamara Rausch, product manager (Europe), Lycored, the gammas are popular research topics due to their presence in the diet. Rausch said vitamin E supplements almost always contain an α -tocopherol, but while tocopherols are important, they lack many of the synergistic benefits offered by tocotrienols.
“Scientists are discovering that tocotrienols provide valuable therapeutic and preventive options for the diseases of aging that tocopherols alone may not provide,” Rausch said. “Tocotrienols have powerful lipid-lowering and neuroprotective properties that tocopherols may lack.”
Skin Health Benefits
Consumers have long had a strong perception that vitamin E is good for their skin. Therefore, consumers are hard-pressed to find a lotion or skin cream that doesn’t contain it. However, according to Steve O’Brien, technical sales director, Nutralliance, vitamin E is expensive, so the personal care industry uses synthetic, due to cost and “acetate” form for stability.
Oxidative Damage & UV Protection
Vitamin E, along with vitamin C, is proven to prevent oxidative and photo damage in skin, which makes it a crucial nutrient for anti-aging, according to Rausch. The human skin naturally uses these antioxidants to protect itself from the damaging effects of sunlight, and photo protection can be obtained from a combination of ingestible and topical vitamin E, which is also suggested to protect against skin cancer.1
These vitamins can also protect against UV irradiation, and a combination of the two may be effective in eliminating toxic free radicals while minimizing the reduction of molecular oxygen to superoxide, which adds additional free radical stress.2 Manufacturers combine vitamin E and C in sunscreen products to protect against photocarcinogenesis and photoaging damage caused by the sun.1
Studies presented by Smita Fulzele, North and South America application laboratory leader, Cargill Beauty, also enforce the synergistic effect of vitamin E when used with vitamin C. Topical applications of both vitamins before UV exposure has shown to reduce skin pigmentation,2 inhibit erythema3 and reduce sunburned cells4 in both humans and animals.5 These studies also support vitamin E as an anti-inflammatory agent, reducing UV-induced skin swelling, thickness, erythema and edema.6
According to Shane Kilburn, research scientist, KGK Science, people with vitiligo demonstrated mild re-pigmentation and a lower proportion of disease worsening when supplemented with vitamin E, phyllanthus emblica and carotenoids for six months.7 Lower signs of inflammation and slower lesion growth was also reported.
According to Rausch, oxidative stress is caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation. UV exposure enhances these cells, causing damage and aging to skin. The use of antioxidants, of which vitamin E is one of the strongest, is an effective approach to prevent symptoms related to photo-induced aging of the skin. Treatment with vitamin E, ascorbic acid, carotenoids and polyphenols has proven effective in enhancing resistance to oxidative stress and naturally protecting skin from disease and deterioration.8
Not only does vitamin E application protect skin from damage, it also can reduce already existing damage, such as lines, wrinkles and roughness, according to Fulzele.9
Heart Health Benefits
Vitamin E helps protect cells from oxidative stress and, according to Rausch, it plays a crucial role in preventing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from oxidation. Lycored offers Cardiomato, a heart health product combining tomato-derived carotenoids, vitamin E and synergistic phytosterols. According to Rausch, a study conducted by Lycored of 150 healthy men and women supplemented with Cardiomate for two weeks showed those who used the product had lower levels of LDL cholesterol, which is the form found to be most damaging.10
Another product made with vitamin E targeted at heart health is EVNol SupraBio, a bioenhanced, natural, full-spectrum palm tocotrienol complex manufactured by ExcelVite Inc. According to Bryan See, business development manager, SupraBio demonstrated cardio protection through effects on cholesterol. SupraBio also targeted LDL cholesterol, and showed potent antioxidant activity in preventing LDL oxidation and reduced arterial stiffness.11
Studies show tocotrienols degrade key enzymes that regulate cholesterol synthesis pathways, leading to reduced cholesterol levels in the liver.11 After four months of supplementation with vitamin E tocotrienols, total cholesterol levels reduced 8.9 percent while LDL cholesterol decreased 12.8 percent. By the end of six months, cholesterol had reduced 10.8 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively, reducing risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease.12
According to Nils Bellecke, research and development senior nutrition scientist, Cargill, vitamin E supplementation is also an essential factor for function and development of tissues and organs, such as the brain, nerves, muscles and skin. Severe deficiency can lead to cardiomyopathy, and although these findings have not been reproduced in human studies, animal studies consistently show the beneficial effect of vitamin E in models for atherosclerosis.13
In a large study presented by Kilburn, almost 40,000 women older than 45 years showed a 24 percent reduction in cardiovascular death rates when supplemented with vitamin E. For women older than 65, there was a 26 percent decrease in nonfatal heart attacks, and a 49 percent decrease in cardiovascular death rates.14
Other Health Benefits
There is interest in research regarding vitamin E’s ability to support brain health, and some studies have shown tocotrienols at very low-level concentrations exert protective effects against stroke-induced injuries in brain cells.15 This may reduce risk for neurodegenerative diseases and, according to Billecke, various intake and circulating levels of different forms of the vitamin have been observed to influence risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.16
Another disease with benefits linked to vitamin E is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFL). Liver ultrasounds showed normalized echogenic responses in 15 out of 30 subjects receiving tocotrienols, while only eight out of 34 subjects in the placebo group showed normalization.17 Pilot intervention studies have also found vitamin E supplementation improved biochemistry and histology features of NAFL, and even steatohepatitis,18 although available evidence is not sufficient to recommend vitamin E therapy for diabetic patients.
An compelling new use for vitamin E is of interest to researchers, as studies have shown an increased intake of vitamin E is recommended during pregnancy to meet the body’s increased demand and prevent gestational complications that may include several brain conditions.19 Alpha-tocopherol, between 400 and 1,200 IU/day in the first trimester, is considered safe for offspring.19
Vitamin E supplementation is also shown to have effects on prostate cancer. In a study of 29,133 male smokers presented by Kilburn, those who received vitamin E supplementation for five to eight years showed a 32 percent decrease in the incidence of prostate cancer, against those who received a placebo.20
Vitamin E Consumption
Vitamin E is an easily consumed vitamin, but more than 90 percent of American adults do not meet the average requirement according to the Linus Pauling Institute. The average recommended dose is around 15 mg/d, according to Rausch, but elderly people supplementing with vitamin E to improve immunity should take 50-200 mg/d. As for ways to consume vitamin E, oral supplementation, topical skin creams and soft gels are popular forms of consumption, however some common foods found in the kitchen are also high in vitamin E. Avocados, olives, vegetable oils and almonds are all foods with naturally high levels of vitamin E.
Overall, vitamin E is well known for its beneficial effects on the skin, and is a popular selling point for beauty product manufacturers. Other uses are sparking researchers’ interest, however, and the library for uses of vitamin E is growing.
- Lin et al. “UV photo protection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E.” American Academy of Dermatology, 2002.
- Quevedo WC, Jr., Holstein TJ, Dyckman J, McDonald CJ, Isaacson EL. “Inhibition of UVR-induced tanning and immunosuppression by topical applications of vitamins C and E to the skin of hairless (hr/hr) mice.” Pigment Cell Res. 2000;13(2):89-98. (PubMed)
- Lin JY, Selim MA, Shea CR, et al. “UV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003;48(6):866-874. (PubMed)
- Darr D, Dunston S, Faust H, Pinnell S. “Effectiveness of antioxidants (vitamin C and E) with and without sunscreens as topical photoprotectants.” Acta Derm Venereol. 1996;76(4):264-268. (PubMed)
- Dreher F, Gabard B, Schwindt DA, Maibach HI. “Topical melatonin in combination with vitamins E and C protects skin from ultraviolet-induced erythema: a human study in vivo.” Br J Dermatol. 1998;139(2):332-339. (PubMed)
- Keller KL, Fenske NA. “Uses of vitamins A, C, and E and related compounds in dermatology: a review.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998;39(4 Pt 1):611-625.(PubMed)
- Colucci et al. “Evaluation of an oral supplement containing Phyllanthus emblica fruit extracts, vitamin E, and carotenoids in vitiligo treatment.” Dermatologic Therapy. 2015;28(1):17-21.
- Masaki, et al. “Role of antioxidants in the skin: Anti-aging effects.” J Dermatol Sci. 2010;58(2):85-90.
- Mayer P. “The effects of vitamin E on the skin.” Cosmet Toiletr. 1993;108:99–109. Möller H, Ansmann A, Wallat S. The effects of vitamin E on the skin in topical applications. Fat Sci Technol. 1989;91(8):295–305).
- Kim, Jy et al. “Effects of lycopene supplementation on oxidative stress and makers of endothelial function in healthy men.” Atherosclerosis. 2011;215(1):189-195.
- Parker RA et al. “Arterial compliance and vitamin E blood levels with a self emulsifying preparation of tocotrienol rich vitamin E.” Archives of Pharmacal Research. 2008;31:1212.
- Yuen KH et al. “Effects of Mixed-Tocotrienols in Hypercholesterolemic Subjects.” Functional Foods in Health & Disease. 2011;1(3):106-117.
- Keaney et al., Faseb J. 13; 1999, Sirikci et al. “Atherosclerosis.” 126; 1996, Özer et al.Free Radic. Biol. Med. 24; 1998.
- Lee et al. “Vitamin E is the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer.” JAMA. 2005;294(1):56-65.
- HA Park et al. “Tocotrienols: The lesser known form of natural vitamin E.” Indian J Exp Biol. 2011;49(10):732-738.
- Mangialasche J et al. “Clinical trials and late-stage drug development of Alzheimer’s disease: an appraisal from 1984 to 2014.” J Intern Med. 2014;275(3):251-283.
- Magosso E, et al. “Tocotrienols for normalization of hepatic echogenic response in nonalcoholic fatty liver: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Nutrition Journal. 2013;12:166.
- Al-Busafi et al. “Pioglitazone, Vitamin E, or Placebo for Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis.” N Engl J Med. 2010;362:1675-1685.
- Boskovic et al. “Pregnancy outcome following high doses of Vitamin E supplementation.” Reprod Toxicol. 2005:20(1):85-88.
- “The alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene lung cancer prevention study: design, methods, participant characteristics, and compliance. The ATBC Cancer Prevention Study Group.” Ann Epidemiol. 1994;4(1):1110.