You may associate vitamin E with skin health, but did you know that it can do much more for you? You’ve likely seen it on many food labels, as well as in topical skin care products, which tells us it has both external as well as internal benefits. Not only is vitamin E an important part of skin health, it’s also a powerful antioxidant which can improve heart health, vision, symptoms of arthritis, and immune health, along with many other benefits.
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Here is what you need to know about vitamin E, and of its many health benefits.
What is this Amazing Vitamin?
Vitamin E is the shared name for a group of eight compounds which have antioxidant properties. However, even though the natural form of the vitamin exists in eight chemical variations, it is mainly the alpha, or a-tocopherol form which meets human needs, and is the most bioavailable. It is therefore that all references here to vitamin E are of the a-tocopherol form of it.
In the human body, vitamin E acts as a powerful antioxidant and is common in foods such as nuts, fish, and many fruits and vegetables. Skin care products often contain it and vitamin E supplements are also a common way to increase levels of it in the body. (1)
As an antioxidant, a-tocopherol helps to cleanse away free radicals, which are essentially your body’s “exhaust,” since they are produced as a byproduct of fuel converting to energy in your cells. Free radicals can also come from tobacco smoke, direct sunlight, air pollution, and other external sources, although no matter the source, they cause cellular damage, including oxidative damage to the cell’s DNA. This may lead to premature aging, heart disease, increased inflammation in the body, and increased risk of cancer. (2)
Other functions of this key vitamin are its involvement in strengthening immune function, and it also helps dilates blood vessels to inhibit clotting of blood platelets, as well as preventing blood cell components from adhering to the surface of blood vessels.
What Does Fat Soluble Mean?
Let’s back up and briefly explain what “fat soluble vitamin” means for those unfamiliar.
First, there are two different types of vitamins which are bioavailable to the human body, one being fat soluble, and the other water soluble. And, just as the names would imply, one dissolves in fats, while the other dissolves in water—simple as that. Vitamin E is fat soluble which means it is able to be dissolved in fats and it is stored in fat throughout the body until needed. However, what this means when it comes to vitamins in your body is that while water readily passes through during the urination and perspiration process, fats are not so easily passed. In fact, most fats need to be metabolized by the body, and are rarely passed on as waste or as waste carriers, so they remain in the body longer than does water.
What this means is that while water soluble vitamins have little storage time in the body and are passed along on a daily basis, fat soluble vitamins are stored for longer periods, and don’t need the same daily replacement as do their water-soluble counterparts.
With vitamin E, after being absorbed by the small intestine, it is taken up by the liver which then determines serum concentrations of it in the body. Since it is stored in the liver and other fatty tissues of the body, levels of it can be built up over time, as opposed to a water-soluble vitamin (such as B-complex or vitamin C), which need replacement on a daily basis to keep serum levels up.
Other examples of fat soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, and K, all of which are naturally occurring in many foods, and can also be added to your diet in supplement form. However, it is advised that levels are monitored when supplementing, since unlike with water soluble vitamins, buildup over time can reach levels of toxicity.
High levels of vitamin E do not typically pose a risk for toxicity, though as a blood thinner, high doses of it can be dangerous for those on statins or other blood-thinning medications. (3)
How a-Tocopherol can Improve your Health
When it comes to your health, few compounds are as roundly beneficial for immune function, skin health, heart health, hormone balance and vision as is vitamin E.
In fact, here are 5 benefits of Vitamin E:
1. Skin Health—Your skin is the largest organ of your body and caring for it goes beyond merely staying clean and using good quality natural soap. Since a-tocopherol is the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant in the skin, it would only make sense that low levels of it would lead to poor skin quality—which indeed it would. The good news is, skin levels can be maintained through both internal and topical treatments, which are readily absorbed by the epidermis (where levels of it are highest) and dermis.
Just as in the rest of the body, vitamin E works to prevent free radical damage in the skin, and it may also help to prevent UV damage. Since it works as an anti-inflammatory compound, vitamin E helps to prevents skin swelling, thickness, and edema, and it may also be beneficial in preventing hives and other conditions stemming from chronic skin inflammation.
This helps the skin maintain its elasticity and smooth appearance, although as we age, skin levels of vitamin E are reduced, which can be compounded by exposure to UV light or ozone—both of which can deplete the skin’s supply of it. (4)
2. Heart Health—For those under high oxidative stress, a-tocopherol may provide heart protection, particularly for those who are diabetic or on dialysis. Other studies show us that when used alone and without other antioxidants, vitamin E reduced the risk of heart attack in sixteen randomized control trials by 20%. (5, 6)
3. Macular Health—When taken in unison with vitamin C, vitamin A, and zinc, at least one study shows as much as a 25% reduction in age related macular degeneration (AMD) when supplementing daily with a-tocopherol. This is in addition to other studies showing the 5-year risk for cataracts being as much as 60% lower for those using supplements containing a-tocopherol in its natural—as opposed to synthetic—form for a period of over 10-years. (7)
4. Improve Arthritis—Studies have shown that vitamin E can reduce joint pain in humans both at rest and during movement after 6 weeks of supplementing with 400 IU of it. This is in addition to evidence of vitamin E having a highly beneficial effect on lateral femoral condyle lesions during a test involving 16 dogs, 8 of which were given a placebo. The reduction in the pro-inflammatory markers showed significant promise in the treatment and prevention of arthritis in humans, as well as in canines. (8)
5. Immune Health—As we age, our immune response declines, which may be something which can be slowed through the use of vitamin E. In a series of studies performed between 1990-1997, it was suggested that vitamin E supplements used by elderly persons can enhance their immune response. (9)
There is also evidence that a diet high in vitamin E foods can improve cellular immunity by inducing higher differentiation in immature T cells through increased positive selection, which can also help improve recovery time from thymic atrophy following radiation treatment. (10)
6. Hormone Balance—According to a study performed in 1972 by A. Sharaf and N. Gomaa, vitamin E has estrogenic, androgenic, and progesterone-like properties which act in synergy with both ovarian hormones and testosterone. According to the findings of the study, this renders vitamin E as a true antisterility factor. In fact, it was determined as far back as the 1930’s that vitamin E improved fertility in both male and female animals, as well as to help protect embryos and fetuses from death. (11, 12)
Foods that Contain Vitamin E
While using an all-natural, high quality vitamin E supplement which provides all 8 naturally occurring vitamin E isomers is an excellent way to boost your serum levels of this important vitamin, you can also add some foods to your diet which will help, such as:
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Fresh salmon or trout
- Sweet red peppers
- Olive oil
While vitamin E may be a commonly known of vitamin, its many functions and benefits may be less well known. However, by ensuring that your serum levels of this vital nutrient are optimal, you can enjoy better skin health, eye health, heart health, immune response, hormone balance and inflammation response. And, by adding either a quality natural vitamin E supplement, or a few natural whole foods to your diet, you can better enjoy all the benefits of this essential vitamin has to offer.
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