Vitamin E is known for its antioxidant properties along with its other benefits to the body like boosting the immune system and keeping the vessels healthy (1). Vitamin E can be taken orally or can also be applied topically to avail its various benefits.
Vitamin E is also popular in the cosmetic industry where the beauty side of the shelves is loaded with creams etc. which have vitamin E in them with claims to reverse skin damage caused by aging (2). The actual benefits of vitamin E are seen in how it balances the antioxidants and free radicals.
What about Antioxidants and Free Radicals?
Free radicals present in the body are nothing, but molecules having an unpaired electron making them unstable (3). These unstable molecules mix with other cells in the body such that they cause damage (3). As there is increase in this process, there is more damage of the cells making a person vulnerable to any disease.
Aging causes production of free radicals in the body or they can also be created with daily factors, such as exercise or digestion. Free radicals are also produced after the body is exposed to certain things, such as: ozone, tobacco smoke, radiation and environmental pollutants.
Antioxidants including vitamin E benefit the body by neutralizing these free radicals by giving them the missing electrons, which helps in destabilizing them. Many foods contain antioxidants and they are also produced in the body with the help of the minerals and vitamins present in the foods.
How Much Vitamin E is Sufficient?
The chances of getting sufficient amounts of vitamin E from the diet are high unless one is following a diet, which is very low in fat. Vitamin E is lost from the body by air pollution, smoking and sun exposure.
The National Institutes of Health says that adults and teenagers should get around 15 mg of vitamin E in a day. The dose for expecting mothers is also the same. Breastfeeding mothers should increase their vitamin E intake to 19 mg.
The NIH recommends the dosage of vitamin E for infants about 4 to 5 mg; for children ages 1 to 3 about 6 mg; for children in the ages of 4 to 8 about 7 mg and for 9 to 13 year olds, it is 11 mg.
One doesn’t need to take any form of supplements to get vitamin E. Many of the foods available in the market, such as juices and cereals are fortified with vitamin E and it is also naturally found in different foods, such as: nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, avocados and other healthy fats (4).
The Potential Benefits of Vitamin E
Ever since vitamin E and other antioxidants were discovered they have been undergoing research for their ability in preventing various diseases (5).
Cancer: A study with 35,000 male participants done for five years who were taking vitamin E supplements showed no beneficial effect in terms of cutting the risk of getting any type of cancer. A follow-up study in 2011 showed that participants taking vitamin E were actually more prone to developing prostate cancer with an increased risk of 17 percent (5).
Heart Protection: It is thought that individuals having increased levels of vitamin E are at decreased risk for heart disease. However, there was one study with more than 14,000 American male participants who were observed for 8 years and who were taking vitamin E supplements and it was found they did not experience any cardiovascular benefit from taking these supplements. Other the contrary, it was found that vitamin E was linked with an increased risk of stroke (7).
Skin/Wound Healing: One of the widely claimed benefits of Vitamin E is increasing the healing process and reduced scarring when applied topically to skin. There have been some studies which support this claim; however, a huge body of research shows that vitamin E is not helpful when it comes to healing the skin wounds faster.
Another study showed that applying vitamin E oil on the skin can in fact worsen the appearance of scars or just not have any effect whatsoever (8). About a one-third of participants in this study developed contact dermatitis from vitamin E application.
What the research says…
It is not always a good idea to take loads of antioxidants supplements including vitamin E regularly. According to some experts, taking increased doses of any antioxidant, not only just vitamin E, does not have any real therapeutic or preventive benefit unless one is suffering from vitamin E deficiency.
An article in the Annals of Internal Medicine published in the year March 2005, by the researchers from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions showed that increased doses of vitamin E can significantly increase death rate from any cause (5, 9, 10). These findings were based on a review of 19 clinical trials and resulted in a lot of counter arguments; however, with very less scientific proof.
The Verdict: Proceed With Caution with Vitamin E
Vitamin E oil is not likely to have positive effects on the skin and in fact seems to carry a high risk of developing a skin rash. Where taking vitamin E orally is concerned, if the recommended dose by your doctor is taken, then it is considered relatively safe. Taking excessive high amounts of vitamin E is highly discouraged.