Probably Not Worth Your Investment
Whether as a capsule, cream or serum, vitamin E sells. “The global natural vitamin e market size was valued at 672.18 million in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 1,187.59 million by the end of 2026…” Nearly 50% of the demand is for oral supplements for humans. Fortified foods and beverages comprise 26.9% of the market, while cosmetics and other uses, including fortified animal feed and supplements, make up approximately 25% of the market. While compared to vitamin C, D and B this is a relatively small market, the vitamin E market is remarkable because unlike these other vitamins, the vast majority of vitamin E related studies conclude that vitamin E provides no discernible benefit in treating whatever medical condition or cosmetic concern is being studied.
The RDA for vitamin E is based primarily on the manner in which vitamin E protects lipids from oxidative damage. Studies have shown that oxidative damage is based primarily attributable to the amount of poly unsaturated fatty acids consumed (PUFA). The greater one’s PUFA intake, the greater their vitamin E needs are expected to be. In the US, the RDA for vitamin E is determined based on assumptions regarding the US population’s linoleic acid consumption. Linoleic acid is one of the six types of PUFAs, comprised of omega-6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid is most prevalent in processed and fast food.
The US RDA for vitamin E is 15 mg. Some researchers suggest computing the optimal vitamin E intake based on the number of grams of the different types of PUFAs consumed.
While a food tracker app will not generally track the consumption of each PUFA, some do track omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Lack of data will preclude most people from performing the detailed calculation that is based on all six PUFAs. The following simplified approach using different weighting for omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may come sufficiently close to determining their appropriate daily intake of vitamin E.
Daily vitamin E required (mg) = 4 +1.25 x grams of omega-3+ 0.5 x grams of omega-6
I used a food tracker to determine vitamin E, omega-3 and omega-6 intake for a typical day of relatively healthy eating involving no processed foods. This generated the following information: vitamin E consumption — 4.9 mg; omega-3 — 0.2 grams, omega-6 — 0.5 grams. This computes to a vitamin E requirement of 4.5 mg. (4 + 0.2 x 1.25+ 0.5 x .5)
In this instance, the RDA of 15 mg is more than triple the computed vitamin E requirement and no vitamin E supplementation would be necessary.
However, inputting some typical fast food choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner into the tracker yields: vitamin E consumption — 4.9 mg, omega-3 — 2.2 g and omega-6 — 15.9 g. Based on this intake, 15.4 mg of Vitamin E are required (4 + 2.2 x 1.25+15.9 x 0.5). This is very close to the RDA. Total vitamin E intake under this scenario was 4.9 mg so a supplement amount of 10 mg (15 IU) would be necessary. This is still very far below the most commonly purchased Vitamin E supplement size of 400 IU.
Experiments in cell cultures and animals have shown that vitamin E is a promising anti-oxidant that may offer a wide range of benefits. These results have been the impetus for numerous human trials. However, the human trials yielded inconsistent results that, in the aggregate, do not indicate dramatic health benefits will ensue from vitamin E supplementation. In particular, research has generally found that Vitamin E has no beneficial effect on:
- Macular degeneration
- Contraction-induced muscle damage
- Heart failure or in the quality of life of patients with advanced heart failure
- The appearance of scars
- Cognitive decline of generally healthy women
- Cancer risk
- Cognitive function of people with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimers disease.
- Inflammatory age-related diseases
Further, one study involving thousands of men and women over a 7.5 year period concluded that oral anti-oxidant supplements (including vitamin E) increase the risk of skin cancer in women.
Admittedly, discrete studies show a limited utility for certain forms of vitamin E supplementation including, reducing seizures in children with epilepsy, prolonging the life of Alzheimer’s patients and addressing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in certain populations. Studies show some potential that long-term (between 5 and 10 years) vitamin E supplementation may decrease the risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Other studies show there is some potential for adults without diabetes to see improvement in steatohepatitis but not in fibrosis or portal inflammation associated with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.
Naturally occurring vitamin E is actually comprised of eight chemical forms: alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol. Most Vitamin E supplements are comprised solely of alpha-tocopherol although some products are available that offer a combination of tocopherol and tocotrienol. Some research has found that certain forms are better suited to specific purposes.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means excess amounts are stored in the body tissue rather than excreted. Therefore, for an individual with an daily requirement of 15 mg of vitamin E who consumes absolutely no Vitamin E through their diet, a 400 IU capsule would provide enough Vitamin E to meet these needs for 26 days. There are some studies that suggest vitamin E supplementation may adversely affect mortality.
Where there is a lack of confidence in the benefits a particular supplement will provide and potentially severe adverse consequences associated with that supplement, a risk analysis may favor no or minimal supplementation.
Despite a large number of skin products that include vitamin E and other antioxidants, there is no significant body of research that clearly establishes any anti-aging benefits from such products. There is some research that concludes that regular use of vitamin E in combination with vitamins A and C and other chemicals may provide some benefits including resistance to UV damage. To be effective, topical applications must provide the appropriate concentration and combination of antioxidants, be in a form that can be absorbed by the skin and remain stable until absorption occurs and remain active after absorption occurs. Research to optimize these qualities is ongoing. Regardless, a 2019 study of topical antioxidant products for sale between 2011 and 2018 was unable to identify any antioxidants that had a “great impact in anti‐ageing formulations.”
Research to-date has generally failed to establish that a broad group of individuals would clearly benefit from exceeding the RDA for vitamin E, whether via oral supplements or topical applications. If research indicates vitamin E supplements would offer you no clear benefit, consider calculating your vitamin E requirements based on the simplified formula above and only taking oral vitamin E supplements to the extent your dietary intake is consistently below the amount calculated.