In the chapter “Say No to Alzheimer’s Disease”, Patrick Holford writes in his book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind that Vitamin E and Vitamin C are important anti-oxidants to protect the brain. Vitamin E protects vitamin A and vitamin C from oxidation. It also help prevents polyunsaturated fats from going rancid. The brain is mostly fat.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant. Antioxidant help reduce oxidative stress by neutralizing damaging free radical molecules. Vitamin E helps prolong the life of cells. Vitamin E protects the aging of red blood cells.
Holford writes about a study where they …
“found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was 67 percent lower in those with a high dietary intake of vitamin E, versus whose with a low intake. Vitamin E no only plays a key role in early prevention in this way, but also in slowing down the progression of the disease.”
The mention of “dietary intake” is important. Because some study found that supplement form of vitamin E may be harmful.
While the book (which was published a while ago back in 2004) does mentions that the American Psychiatric Association recommends vitamin E supplements for Alzheimer’s patients, this is no longer true.
The Practice Guidelines of the Treatment of Patients With Alzheimer’s Disease posted online writes that …
“Vitamin E (α-tocopherol) is no longer recommended for the treatment of cognitive symptoms of dementia because of limited evidence for its efficacy as well as safety concerns”
You can find many other instances where vitamin E was once recommended in the past but is no longer recommended.
Oncologist Dr. Donald Abrams in his video talk here says he stopped taking vitamin E, even though he had been taking the mixed tocopherols form of it.
The Berkeley Wellness Letter writes …
“There is little clinical research showing that vitamin E supplements are beneficial. Most clinical trials from the past few years have yielded negative or inconclusive results. In fact, the evidence is growing stronger that vitamin E supplements might actually be harmful in some circumstances. Future research may still find that certain “natural” forms of vitamin E are beneficial in some populations (based on age or genetic characteristics, for example), but that remains hypothetical.”
Vitamin E in nature is great and fine. But vitamin E supplements is a bit controversial. Some studies suggests that they do good. And other studies suggests that they do harm. Whether you decide to take vitamin E supplements or not is up to you, but here is some information, opinions from authorities.
The Miller study published in Annals.org titled “Meta-Analysis: High-Dosage Vitamin E Supplementation May Increase All-Cause Mortality” which says that vitamin E supplements may increase all-cause mortality.
However, the study itself notes the limitation of the study …
“High-dosage (≥400 IU/d) trials were often small and were performed in patients with chronic diseases. The generalizability of the findings to healthy adults is uncertain. Precise estimation of the threshold at which risk increases is difficult.”
and the study have been criticized by others such as the authors of “The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book” which says …
“This study has been widely criticized by experts in the field of antioxidant research. … it was poorly designed, and the conclusions were unfounded. For example, the studies included in this meta-analysis were interpreted incorrectly. The studies included were inconsistently designed, with various doses and endpoints … The analysis failed to distinguish between the use of various forms of vitamin E and the use of synthetic forms of vitamin E in most trials.” [page 107]
Dr. Weil answers question “Is Vitamin E Dangerous” and writes …
“Natural vitamin E in the form of mixed tocopherols can possibly provide different benefits than synthetic versions limited to alpha tocopherol. We’ve seen in the past that under certain circumstances supplements can have unexpected, negative effects.”
Do not exceed 400 IUs per day. The reference RDAs are around 22 to 28 IU. And take the d-alpha form (not the dl-alpha form) with mixed tocopherals whole vitamin E complex consisting of four tocopherols plus four tocotrienols, if you are going to supplement.
Make sure you get the vitamin E which is labeled as “d-alpha tocopherol” (which is closer to natural form) as opposed to the synthetic form labeled as “dl-alpha tocopherol”. This is a difference of just on letter. The “D” and the “L” are “handed-ness” of the element. The synethic process is not easily able to separate the two “hands”, therefore they give both to you in the pill. But the body can only absorb the “D handed-ness” form (which is the form found in nature).
Hence the natural vitamin E has at least twice the bio availability than the synthetic form. Some say that the natural form is 8 times as potent. [ref: The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book]
Sometimes instead of “tocopherol”, you might see “tocopheryl acetate” or “tocopheryl succinate”. Tocopherol is slightly better absorbed than tocopheryl acetate which in turn is slightly better than tocopheryl succinate. But the significance of that is not great. Just get the “d” form instead of the “dl” form.
In scientific literature, “RRR-alpha-tocopheryl acetate” refers to the natural form and “all-rac-alpha-tocopheryl acetate” refers to the synthetic form.
Vitamin E in nature comes in eight different forms: alpha-toccopherol, beta-toccopherol, gamma-toccopherol, delta-toccopherol, alpha-tocotrienol, beta-tocotrienol, gamma-tocotrienol, and delta-tocotrienol. Our bodies adapted to seeing those forms in certain proportions. The economy vitamin E supplements comes in only one form. And when the body see a massive dose of one form, it may not be able to absorb the other forms.
If you get vitamin E supplements get the one that supplies all eight forms of vitamin E. You may also see “mixed tocopherols”. They are preferred. It is believed these different forms have different beneficial effects on the body (although the most studied is the alpha-tocopherol). Mixed tocopherols means that it contains multiple forms of these vitamin E.
If you are taking a multi-vitamin, see if it has the preferred form of vitamin E.
Vitamin E from Food
Of course, the most natural form of vitamin E and the best form is that from real food. Many believe that it is vitamin E in foods (and not supplements) that are effective.
Reader’s Digest Your Health says to get vitamin E from food and not to take vitamin E supplements…
“One study found that vitamin E from food — but not supplements — helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. … Bottom line: Don’t take it.” [page 211]
WHFoods.com says …
“When obtained from food sources alone, vitamin E has no documented research of toxicity. Vitamin E supplements, when taken in very high doses of 3000 IU or more, have been shown to have toxic effects.”
And the link lists the top foods with vitamin E. Almonds, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Avocados, Asparagus, and Mustard Greens are among them.
Personally, I do take supplements, but vitamin E is not one of them (except when it already comes bundled in a multivitamin). I eat avocados instead. Avocados have a little bit of vitamin E in combination with vitamin C. A little bit meaning 1/5 of a medium avocado has 4% DV of vitamin E and another 4% of vitamin C.