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Vitamin E Supplements

What Should I Know About It?

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Updated July 03, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Vitamin E is known to play a key role in immune function and in certain metabolic processes. Since vitamin E is an antioxidant, it's also thought to fight off free radicals (chemical byproducts shown to damage DNA). Vitamin E supplements are often touted as a natural means of treating or preventing the following health problems:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • arthritis
  • cataracts
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • high cholesterol
  • hot flashes
  • inflammation
  • Parkinson's disease

Although vitamin E is found naturally in a number of foods, many people take vitamin E supplements in an effort to boost their levels of this essential nutrient. Individuals with illnesses like liver disease or Crohn's disease may need extra vitamin E, however most people can achieve adequate vitamin E intake through diet alone.

Health Benefits of Vitamin E Supplements

To date, research on the health effects of vitamin E supplements has yielded mixed results. However, the majority of clinical studies indicate that taking vitamin E supplements does not offer a significant health benefit. For instance, a 2005 report reviewed 19 clinical trials on vitamin E and found that vitamin E supplements failed to reduce risk of heart disease or cancer. What's more, the report's authors determined that study members who received a placebo had a slightly longer lifespan (compared to those who took vitamin E supplements).

Despite the lack of scientific support for the benefits of vitamin E supplements, a number of studies show that following a diet high in vitamin-E-rich foods (such as wheat germ oil, almonds, and sunflower seeds) may help reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease and lung cancer.

Should You Take Vitamin E Supplements?

If you're considering the use of vitamin E supplements for prevention or treatment of any type of health condition, make sure to consult your doctor before starting your supplement regimen. You should also talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms of vitamin E deficiency (such as muscle weakness, visual problems, and a poor sense of balance). In some cases, taking vitamin E supplements in high doses may cause adverse effects (including nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea). What's more, some research suggests that improper use of vitamin E supplements may lead to increased risk of heart failure.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. "Vitamin E".

Engelhart MJ, Geerlings MI, Ruitenberg A, van Swieten JC, Hofman A, Witteman JC, Breteler MM." Dietary intake of antioxidants and risk of Alzheimer disease." JAMA. 2002 26;287(24):3223-9.

Mahabir S, Schendel K, Dong YQ, Barrera SL, Spitz MR, Forman MR. "Dietary alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocopherols in lung cancer risk." Int J Cancer. 2008 1;123(5):1173-80.

Miller ER 3rd, Pastor-Barriuso R, Dalal D, Riemersma RA, Appel LJ, Guallar E. "Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality." Ann Intern Med. 2005 4;142(1):37-46.

National Institutes of Health. "Vitamin E: MedlinePlus". July 2010.

Peters U, Littman AJ, Kristal AR, Patterson RE, Potter JD, White E. "Vitamin E and selenium supplementation and risk of prostate cancer in the Vitamins and lifestyle (VITAL) study cohort." Cancer Causes Control. 2008 19(1):75-87.

Sesso HD, Buring JE, Christen WG, Kurth T, Belanger C, MacFadyen J, Bubes V, Manson JE, Glynn RJ, Gaziano JM. "Vitamins E and C in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in men: the Physicians' Health Study II randomized controlled trial." JAMA. 2008 12;300(18):2123-33.

Slatore CG, Littman AJ, Au DH, Satia JA, White E. "Long-term use of supplemental multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate does not reduce the risk of lung cancer." Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008 1;177(5):524-30.

Taylor HR, Tikellis G, Robman LD, McCarty CA, McNeil JJ. "Vitamin E supplementation and macular degeneration: randomised controlled trial." BMJ. 2002 6;325(7354):11.

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