Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant vitamin that's fat-soluble. Antioxidants help to protect cells against free radical damage that seems to play a role in some health problems. Since cell membranes are made of fat, vitamin E is the ideal antioxidant for protecting them against damage, unlike water-soluble antioxidants that aren't as effective due to their lack of fat solubility. Vitamin E is found naturally in cooking oils, margarine, animal fats, poultry, nuts, seeds, some vegetables and whole grains.
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Because of its antioxidant activity, there's ongoing research looking at whether vitamin E offers protection against certain diseases and health problems. One disease that some experts believe is linked with oxidative damage is Alzheimer's disease. In one study, a combination of supplemental vitamin E and vitamin C was associated with a lower risk of developing this devastating brain disease. Both vitamins have antioxidant activity. Another study found that vitamin E combined with a medication used by Alzheimer's patients helped to delay loss of cognitive function. Because other studies have produced mixed results, more research is needed to identify the role of vitamin E, if any, in the prevention and treatment of cognitive impairments.
Vitamin E may have possible other benefits as well. It has been thought that Vitamin E levels may lower the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Observational studies have associated lower rates of CHD with higher intakes of Vitamin E. However, many large recent clinical trials evaluating the effect of Vitamin E supplementation on decreased risk of cardiovascular events showed no benefit. Results are not conclusive at this time and research studies are still ongoing.
Other research shows vitamin E may improve the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome – especially breast tenderness in young women – as well as ease painful menstrual cramps that so many women experience around the time of their menstrual period. It also appears to lessen joint pain and tenderness in people with rheumatoid arthritis and may be beneficial along with other antioxidant vitamins and nutrients for slowing down progression of macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of visual loss in older people. However, further research is needed to determine if Vitamin E provides any benefit in these conditions.
Researchers are also investigating whether vitamin E offers protection against some types of cancer due to its antioxidant activity. One study found a link between vitamin E supplements and a lower risk of dying from bladder cancer but more research is needed in this area.
Vitamin E in topical form may also offer benefits. One study showed a combination of vitamin E and vitamin C applied topically helped to protect against damage from sun exposure. Ultraviolet light from the sun contributes to premature skin aging, partially by causing oxidative damage to skin cells and cells that produce collagen and elastin. Vitamin E may be protective due to its antioxidant activity. Vitamin E oil also has moisturizing properties that makes it soothing for dry skin.
As an antioxidant vitamin, vitamin E is vital for health. However, there is a lack of evidence that supplementation of vitamin E has health benefits in healthy children or adults. It is also important to know that high-dose supplementation may actually cause harm and increase mortality and the risk of hemorrhage. Consult with your physician first before incorporating Vitamin E supplements into your diet. Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, herbal and dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health professional. You should read product labels and discuss all therapies with a qualified healthcare provider before adding any supplements into your diet.
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