Supplements And Vitamins: The Benefits And Dangers Of Vitamin E

Whether you take it for your skin, your heart, or other health reasons, learn how and when to take Vitamin E... and when not to.

Vitamin E is a useful antioxidant taken internally, usually as a capsule, or used topically as an oil or skin cream.But, while some consider it a "wonder drug," there are clear risks related to this important and versatile vitamin.

First, it's important to understand how Vitamin E earned its title of "Chief Executive Antioxidant" as the famous Dr. Atkins called it.

Antioxidants are like your body's truant officers.They find free radicals--delinquent oxygen molecules in your body that can kill cells, harm your body's DNA, and impair your immune system--and prevent those free radicals from causing further damage.

Free radicals are sometimes created internally, as part of your immune system.But, we also acquire free radicals from outside sources such as tobacco smoke, pollution, food additives, and radiation. Once free radicals are turned loose in your body, they can work with fat and create more free radicals, in a domino effect.

Antioxidants--including Vitamins E, C, and beta-carotene, as well as the mineral selenium--can halt this effect, and the damage caused by excess free radicals.

Free radicals are strongly suspected of causing cancer and degenerative aging, among other problems.So, it's important to limit free radical damage as much as you can.Vitamin E is one of the dietary leaders in this fight.

Vitamin E is vital for the health of your body's cells, and was once readily available from foods in everyday diets.These include fresh vegetable oils, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.

Today, Vitamin E is often missing from processed foods, where air and heat can damage any Vitamin E content. For example, processing removes 40 - 90% of the Vitamin E in wheat, when producing breakfast cereals and even commercial whole wheat bread.

How much should you take?In 2000, the National Academy of Sciences set Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) of 15 milligrams of Vitamin E daily for healthy men and women over age 18.This is far lower than the dosage in most vitamin capsules, so you may want to consider adding Vitamin E to your diet, by changing what you eat.

FOOD SOURCES OF VITAMIN E

Food sources are always the best, first choice for vitamins.However, to get 15 milligrams of Vitamin E in your diet, you would need to eat five cups of boiled mustard greens, boiled chard, or cooked turnip greens, and they would have to be prepared fresh--not from cans or your grocer's freezer section.At the very least, you'd need 1/4 cup of freshly harvested, dried sunflower seeds.

The incentive for finding your Vitamin E in food sources is two-fold:There are no documented cases of Vitamin E toxicity when the source was fresh food.And, medical science is steadily learning more about micronutrients in vitamins from food sources, so you may get more benefits from them than the pill or capsule versions.

In reality, few people have the time, resources, or palate for large amounts of freshly cooked greens.So, vitamin supplements become important.

VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS

Vitamin E is readily available in most multivitamins, and as single vitamins--usually capsules--from the grocery store.However, you should still read the labels carefully, to be sure that you're getting the right amount and quality of Vitamin E.

Vitamin E usually comes in a capsule as oil, and should be taken with a meal that includes a small amount of fat.However, since rancid oils are a leading source of dietary free radicals, be sure that your Vitamin E capsules are as fresh as possible.If the package doesn't have a date indicating its shelf life, don't buy it.

Vitamin E is also available as a tablet that is water-soluble.This may be easier for your body to absorb, and is generally preferred for the treatment of joint inflammation and infections.



Finally, there are skin creams and body oils made with Vitamin E, often recommended for burns and stretch marks.Because this vitamin is not generally absorbed through the skin, topical Vitamin E--except by prescription--is usually considered a cosmetic product, not part of your daily vitamin intake.

HOW MUCH TO TAKE

Your first concern is the dosage.You should consult your physician before making any significant dietary or food supplement changes, especially if you are coping with health issues. This is especially true of Vitamin E, since it can be toxic at higher doses.

Most books and articles about Vitamin E recommend starting at a low dose, no greater than 100 IUs, and very slowly increasing to a daily dose of about 400 IUs.

Some health concerns may suggest eventual higher doses.For example, a 1996 article in the medical journal, "Lancet," found that dosages of 400 - 800 IU reduced heart attacks by 77 percent, in over 2000 patients with heart disease. (Stephens, N., et al., Lancet, 1996; 347:781-86.)

However, it is vital not to self-medicate with Vitamin E.There are some significant health risks with this vitamin.

HEALTH RISKS AND VITAMIN E

There are many reasons not to take Vitamin E, and especially not to take it in supplement form at doses higher than the recommended allowance.If you have (or may have) diabetes, rheumatic heart disease, high blood pressure, or a hypothyroid condition (overactive thyroid), check with your doctor before adding any Vitamin E to your diet.

If you take any anticoagulant (anti-clotting) medication or if you take digitalis, don't take Vitamin E without asking your doctor first. If you have vision problems, especially blurry vision, ask your physician before increasing your Vitamin E intake.And, if you are a woman going through menopause and your menses resume after taking Vitamin E, stop taking this vitamin and check with your doctor immediately.

Vitamin E can prevent clotting, so you should discontinue your daily dose of this vitamin before any surgery.

And, there are medications that can interfere with the absorption of Vitamin E.These include anticonvulsive drugs such as Dilantin, and several cholesterol-lowering drugs.

While most people no longer use mineral oil, an old-time laxative and skin lubricant, it also causes problems with vitamin absorption, especially Vitamin E.

THE EXTENDED VITAMIN E FAMILY

In recent years, studies of Vitamin E have revealed several related nutrients, and the importance of using natural forms of the vitamin.

In the past, and for short-term therapeutic use, many relied upon synthetic forms of Vitamin E, usually called "l-alpha tocopherol" on the label.

However, we now know that the natural form of Vitamin E,d-alpha tocopherol (or d-alpha tocopheryl acetate), may be the tip of the iceberg.For full benefits from this important vitamin, check the food supplement label for the full family of Vitamin E, including tocopherol and tocotrienol.Some manufacturers have simplified their labels, and simply refer to these forms as "mixed tocopherols" or "mixed tocotrienols."

Studies are still unclear about the precise benefits of the full range of Vitamin E nutrients, but if your doctor recommends Vitamin E, it's wise to include all forms of the vitamin.

Because there are health risks connected with Vitamin E, it's smart to consult your doctor before taking this vitamin in food supplement form.Your doctor can also recommend the correct dosage for your body, as well as additional reading to learn more about the risks and benefits of Vitamin E supplements.

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