Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, especially useful for athletes and bodybuilders, but the supplements on offer vary dramatically in quality, and some may be doing more harm than good. Read on to find out what you should be buying, and what to avoid.
Vitamin E helps to protect cell membranes against damage caused by oxygen free radicals which are created during exercise. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much research into the quantities required for optimal effect.
What we do know is that it is an important factor in muscle repair for several days after intense exercise.
It is also the key to a strong immune system and healthy skin and eyes, which is why it appears in so many skin products.
Natural versus synthetic vitamin E
Supplements typically provide only alpha-tocopherol, just one of the eight forms of vitamin E, and most of these are synthetically created. If it is listed as dl-alpha tocopherol, it’s synthetic. d-alpha tocopherol (no “l” after the “d”), is the natural form derived from vegetable oils such as soya.
You may also see ‘all-rac-α-tocopherol’ or ‘all-rac-alpha-tocopherol’ – this is a synthetic version containing all eight isomers (see below).
Also, the synthetic version is less bioavailable than the natural form, and only about 50-70% will be absorbed.
Get the mixed isomer versions
Vitamin E is the generic name for a group of eight compounds known as tocopherols and tocotrienols. Each has four different isomers that are designated as alpha, beta, gamma and delta. These isomers individually offer distinct benefits in the body, and research shows that a mix of the isomers has the greatest range of benefits. This is why the natural form of vitamin E found in food is generally more effective in studies than the isolated synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol often used.
It is also possible that long-term use of large amounts of pure alpha-tocopherol may lead to a deficiency of gamma-tocopherol, with potential negative consequences. For that reason, some doctors recommend that people who take large amounts of vitamin E take at least part of it in the form of mixed tocopherols.
Similarly, there is also some evidence that the high gamma-tocopherol diet prevalent in the USA causes a potentially unhealthy lung inflammation amongst those with overall low vitamin E intake. The take away from this is to ensure that you have a good balance and quantity of vitamin E isomers in your body.
In other words, buy the full spectrum natural versions, rather than the synthetic pure alpha-tocopherol.
There seem to be a number of ‘mixed’ supplements that just include the tocopherols, but not the tocotrienols, and some that offer just the tocotrienols. I would suggest when choosing a supplement that you check the ingredients thoroughly to ensure that all eight isomers are included. You should be looking for something like this (from Life Extension):
Bear in mind that supplements offering all eight isomers also tend to be considerably more expensive.
How and when to take Vitamin E supplements
Because vitamin E is fat-soluble, supplements are best absorbed with a high fat meal (i.e. something containing a table spoon of olive oil).
Some fitness professionals suggest taking it just prior to, or just after, exercise. In theory this makes it more readily available when your body starts to produce free radicals. However, the body keeps stores of Vitamin E in the liver, muscles and blood, so you shouldn’t need to worry about this too much, and there isn’t any research to back this up yet. Also, you are unlikely to be eating a high fat meal just before exercising, so you are risking absorbing a lot less of your supplement anyway.
There is some evidence that you can maximise your antioxidant power by pairing vitamin E with vitamin C supplementation, thus potentially further reducing muscle soreness and damage.
Vitamin E Peak Health Dose
The advised minimum that you should be ingesting each day varies from 3mg to 15mg, depending on which official source you prefer. The average dietary intake is around 7mg per day, so there is plenty of reason to supplement an average diet.
Multivitamin pills usually contain 30 IU (about 20mg) up to 60 IU (about 40mg) of vitamin E. Separate supplements usually offer around 400 IU.
Doses of up to 1,000 mg/day (1,500 IU/day of the natural form or 1,100 IU/day of the synthetic form) in adults appear to be safe.
In the UK, the NHS recommends ‘540mg or less a day of vitamin E supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.’
So, is it worth taking a separate supplement beyond a good multi-vitamin? Probably. Even a top quality multi-vitamin like OPTI-WOMEN only contains d-alpha-tocopherol, so if you want to get all eight isomers rather than just one, you will almost certainly need to buy a separate supplement. The standard 400IU supplements available offer a high dose that is well below the potentially toxic levels.
Vitamin E high doses
High-dose vitamin E supplementation increased PIVKA-II in adults not receiving oral anticoagulant therapy. The clinical significance of these changes warrants further investigation, but high doses of vitamin E may antagonize vitamin K.
Some recent research suggests that intakes of vitamin E below these upper safe levels could still increase the risk of prostate cancer in men if you are also deficient in selenium.
Getting Vitamin E from food:
Food generally provides a good balance of vitamin E isomers, but many people will struggle even to reach the RDA of 20mg, especially people on low fat diets. Getting a peak health dose from a modern diet is impossible.
It is best to avoid a heavy reliance on canola, soybean and corn oils, which are gamma-tocopherol heavy.
|Wheat germ oil, 1 tablespoon||20.3||100|
|Sunflower seeds, dry roasted, 1 ounce||7.4||37|
|Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce||6.8||34|
|Sunflower oil, 1 tablespoon||5.6||28|
|Safflower oil, 1 tablespoon||4.6||25|
|Tofu, 3 oz, 85g||4.5||21|
|Hazelnuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce||4.3||21|
|Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons||2.9||15|
|Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce||2.2||11|
|Rainbow Trout fillet (71g)||2.0||10|
|Corn oil, 1 tablespoon||1.9||10|
|Spinach, boiled, ½ cup||1.9||10|
|Broccoli, chopped, boiled, ½ cup||1.2||6|
|Soybean oil, 1 tablespoon||1.1||6|
|Kiwifruit, 1 medium||1.1||6|
|Mango, sliced, ½ cup||0.7||4|
|Tomato, raw, 1 medium||0.7||4|
|Spinach, raw, 1 cup||0.6||3|
|Hard boiled egg||0.5||3|
Buyer’s Guide (contains affiliate links)
There are quite a few known brands offering full spectrum vitamin E. However, the most interesting one that I came across was from MRM:
What’s especially interesting is that they have added in vitamin C and ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid) which shows that they really understand the antioxidant boosting effect of combining these vitamins. To top it off, they are vegan friendly tablets too. It is expensive though, at $19.98 for 30 days’ supply. I could only find it at £15.60 for a month’s supply via Amazon in the UK.
GNC’s Isomer E offers a 90 day supply of the full spectrum for $26.99 in the USA, which looks like a good price to me. I couldn’t find this one online in the UK, even from GNC.
Although Now Foods offer a full spectrum supplement, it is a bit light on the tocotrienols in comparison to the above two products, containing just 10mg. At $19.14 for 60 days’ supply, it’s not quite as good value as the GNC Isomer E. £16.63 in the UK on Amazon is probably the best value for money.
Costs $26.29 for 60 days’ supply. Also available via Amazon UK for £18.83 at the time of writing. Slightly more expensive than Now Foods, but a more balanced spectrum of isomers. This is the one that I use.
Points to Note
- The DV (Daily Value) set by the FDA for vitamin E is 30 IU (approximately 20 mg of natural alpha-tocopherol) for adults. According to the Institute of Medicine, the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) is 15mg (22.4IU) per day. In the UK, the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is 4mg for men and 3mg for women.
- Vitamin E loses its potency when exposed to air, heat, and light, so supplements should be stored in a dark, cool place.
- People who are taking anticoagulants (blood thinners or aspirin) should take vitamin E supplements only under physician supervision.
- If you are taking statins, do not exceed 800 IU of vitamin E because it can dramatically reduce the benefits of some cholesterol drugs.
- Adverse effects may also occur when taking vitamin E and chemotherapy drugs, or mineral oil.
- Vitamin E absorption may be altered when taking the pharmaceuticals Cholestyramine, Colestipol and Orlistat.
- Levels of vitamin E may be affected by seizure medications, zinc and fish oils.
- High doses of vitamin E may increase the body’s vitamin K requirement, and increased intake of omega-6 fatty acids may increase vitamin E requirements.
Mostly taken from here.