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vitamin E and heart disease

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Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, is a fat-soluble vitamin. One of the roles fat plays in the diet is to transport fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamin E is carried through the body attached to fat. The body stores vitamin E in fat deposits and in the liver.

Much research has focused on the role vitamin E may play in the prevention of heart disease because of its antioxidant properties.

What food source is the nutrient found in? 
The best sources of vitamin E are:
  • vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, canola, corn, olive, and wheat germ) and products made from them, such as margarine
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • wheat germ
  • broccoli
  • unprocessed cereal grains
  • leafy-green vegetables provide smaller amounts of the vitamin
Refined grains, such as white flour, have had the germ removed. Since the germ of the seed is where vitamin E is located, foods made from refined flours are not good sources. Wholemeal flour contains much of the original germ and is a much better source of vitamin E.

How does the nutrient affect the body? 
Vitamin E's most important function is as an antioxidant. This means it helps protect the body cells from oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction in the body that can lead to cell damage. It is also a natural part of ageing. Many scientists believe that this cell damage can lead to chronic health problems such as heart disease.

Vitamin E's role in heart disease prevention is not completely understood. Scientists believe that it may protect artery walls from the build up of plaque. It may help to strengthen blood vessel walls, reduce LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, and increase HDL, or "good" cholesterol. Vitamin E also has mild blood-thinning properties. This may keep platelets, the parts of the blood that enable the blood to clot, from sticking together and also protect arteries.

Other studies from the CSIRO and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute are trying to pinpoint what our antioxidant needs are for health benefits. Other antioxidants, like vitamin C and selenium, work together with vitamin E in their protection of the body.

Additional diet and lifestyle factors are also very important for cutting the risk of heart disease. Balancing the intake of vitamins and minerals is also important. Too much of one vitamin can cause imbalances of other vitamins in the body. Groups including the National Heart Foundation and Dieticians Association of Australia continue to recommend a balanced diet as an important first step toward disease prevention, with antioxidant-rich foods such as:
  • fresh fruits, including oranges, strawberries, melons
  • fresh vegetables, including broccoli, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and spinach
  • whole grains
The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for vitamin E is 10 mg for men and 7mg for women (daily). Alpha-tocopherol, the most potent form of vitamin E, is what is usually found in supplements. The Board has set an upper level of 1,000 mg for alpha-tocopherol . Upper levels are not the recommended amount to take. They are set to represent the maximum intake of a vitamin or mineral that is likely to cause no health problems. People should not routinely go above the set upper levels for any vitamin or mineral. Very large doses can lead to health problems instead of providing health benefits. Consuming too much vitamin E can put people at risk for extended bleeding time.

Despite the promising reports about vitamin E, some researchers are reporting different results. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine, in America, found no benefit to heart disease from increased intake of vitamin E. These conflicting reports support the need for further research. The clearest recommendation is that people should consult their doctor before beginning to take high doses of any vitamin. People taking blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin, warfarin, or coumadin, should definitely discuss vitamin E intake with their doctor.

Author: Kimberly Tessmer, RD, LD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 24/11/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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