Your guide to EYKTK about Vitamin E - and why it's the key to healthy skin and eyes
words Ella Glover
Often, when it comes to upping our nutritional intake, we've moved away from the old ‘an apple a day’ adage and towards more advanced or alternative ways to get in the nutrients we need, whether that’s through supplements or, idk, weed and psychedelics, or going au naturel using herbal remedies and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
But if you want to keep it more straightforward, and are wanting to learn more about which vitamins are the most essential, you might wonder why we hear so much about vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamin B12 as opposed to others, like vitamin K or vitamin E. Other than being a popular ingredient in skincare products, vitamin E isn't really discussed, despite having important antioxidant properties.
Vitamin E probably isn’t so widely focused on because, first of all, our body stores it for future use, and it's really easy to get enough by eating particular oils, nuts and fruits, so the majority of us get more than enough. That means that, unlike B12 for example, deficiency is pretty rare and not that hard to treat. Secondly, taking vitamin E supplements isn’t really recommended.
To learn more, woo asked Sara McKenzie, a registered dietitian working for the NHS, to give us the lowdown on vitamin E.
Vitamin E benefits
As McKenzie explains, Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin – meaning it's absorbed into the body with the fats we consume. It comes in eight different forms, but α-tocopherol is the type that humans are best able to absorb. It’s also an antioxidant, which means it helps to protect our cells from damage.
“Vitamin E helps to keep our skin and eyes healthy and strengthens the immune system, which is the body’s natural defence against illness and infection, as well as protects our cells from damage,” MckEnzie says. Despite this, vitamin E is kind of slept on when it comes to prioritising supplements, but that’s only in the context of our diet.
If you’ve been noticing that the products in the skincare aisles in the likes of Boots and the Body Shop are increasingly including vitamin E as a key ingredient, dw, you’re not imagining things. But, while studies have shown that vitamin E is used to help treat yellow nail syndrome – a disease that can cause nails to stop growing and become yellow and excessively curly and, in some cases, affect the lungs – and a type of dermatosis called Sneddon-Wilkinson disease, both of which are quite rare. However, despite being used in dermatology for 50 years, there’s not enough evidence that topical vitamin E products – like the vitamin E enriched moisturiser you might be tempted to pick up – make much of a difference to our skin.
Still, vitamin E is important for our overall health.
How much vitamin E do you need?
Right, it’s essential. But how much do we really need to consume?
The NHS recommends that males need 4 mg of vitamin E per day and females need 3mg per day. However, as McKenzie points out, “any vitamin E your body does not need immediately is stored for future use,” which means you don’t actually have to consume it every single day.
The best Vitamin E sources
Veggies and vegans needn’t worry about getting enough vitamin, as we don’t get it from meat or dairy. In fact, says McKenzie, “vitamin E is found in plant-based oils, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables.” That definitely makes things easier, right?
The absolute best source of vitamin E is wheat germ oil, which has 20.3 mg per tablespoon, more than five times the daily requirements for women. Other sources include sunflower oil and seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and peanut butter, spinach, broccoli, kiwis, mangos and tomatoes. McKenzie adds that avocado, butternut squash, olives and olive oil and wholewheat food products are also good sources of vitamin E.
While research hasn’t found any adverse side effects from consuming vitamin E through food, it's good to keep in mind that overdoing it on the supplements, particularly α-tocopherol, can increase the risk of bleeding and interact negatively with certain ailments, even increasing the likelihood of death.
“If you do take vitamin E supplements do not take too much as this may be harmful.” says McKenzie. She adds that you should check if you really need to be taking vitamin E supplements with your doctor or a dietitian.
As with any supplement, it’s important to make sure you’re buying the most appropriate and trustworthy product. “You should always buy age-appropriate supplements from a reputable source such as your local chemist or supermarket, not from an unknown company on the internet,” says McKenzie. “The label should tell you the amount in each dose and have an expiry date.”
Besides, given the low requirements, and the fact our body stores vitamin E for future use, it’s likely you’ll get enough vitamin E by eating a balanced diet, so don’t worry so much about supplements.
Vitamin E deficiency
Vitamin E deficiency, unsurprisingly, is rare. But, as McKenzie explains, people whose bodies do not absorb fat properly – whether that’s due to problems with the pancreas, cystic fibrosis, coeliac disease or something else – as well as those who have a restrictive diet, are more at risk of developing a deficiency.
So how does it look? “The most common signs of vitamin E deficiency are thought to be damage to the eyes and vision (known as retinopathy), damage to nerves, usually in the hands and feet (known as peripheral neuropathy), muscle weakness and a weakened immune system,” says McKenzie.
There’s not much evidence to say how soon you’ll be able to recover from vitamin E deficiency, McKenzie says that most symptoms subside pretty quickly if you add more vitamin E sources to your diet or take oral supplements – again, only on the advice of your GP.
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