Getting enough vitamin E may help prevent disease by fighting free radical damage and reducing inflammation, two factors at play in the major health risks men face, including prostate cancer and heart disease. Eating a nutritious diet that provides adequate amounts of the essential vitamins is recommended for all men, but taking supplements may not provide any additional vitamin E benefits for men.
Vitamin E Functions
Vitamin E is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins, in addition to vitamins A, D and K. One of its main roles in the body is as an antioxidant that scavenges free radicals. Free radicals are substances the body creates during metabolism, and they are also in the environment — in cigarette smoke, air pollution and the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Some free radicals are beneficial, helping to kill germs and aiding communication between hormones, chemical messengers and cells. But free radicals can also damage cells, cause genetic mutations and may play a role in the development of cancer, heart disease and age-related diseases.
Vitamin E also helps boost immunity, preventing the invasion of harmful bacteria and viruses. In addition, it widens blood vessels and inhibits platelet aggregation, which helps prevent dangerous blood clots.
Vitamin E and Heart Disease
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for men in the United States, and males have a greater risk of developing the condition earlier in life than females, reports Harvard Health Publishing. Cellular damage from free radicals leads to the oxidation of cholesterol that contributes to the aggregation of plaque on artery walls, also known as atherosclerosis. Over time, this can lead to slowed or blocked blood flow to the heart.
Many studies have examined whether vitamin E's roles as antioxidant and platelet aggregation inhibitor can help treat and prevent heart disease. While getting enough dietary vitamin E is beneficial, supplemental vitamin E may not be.
A meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies published in the BMJ in January 2013 examined the results of 50 studies involving 294,478 participants. The researchers were looking for evidence of the efficacy of all vitamin and antioxidant supplements, both in combination and singly, in the prevention of heart disease. Overall, they found that none of the supplements, including vitamin E, was effective for reducing the risk of major cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
The researchers did find some evidence that supplemental vitamin E reduced the risk of myocardial infarction; however, they found positive results only in studies in which the vitamin E supplements were provided by pharmaceutical companies, which could potentially have influenced trial design, results or interpretations.
The researchers concluded that no vitamin or antioxidant supplement is effective for prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, and one man out of nine will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis in his lifetime. Many studies have examined whether the antioxidant properties of vitamin E may offer any protection against prostate cancer.
Several in vitro and animal studies have found that certain types of vitamin E — gamma-tocopherol and delta-tocopherol — inhibit the growth of cancer cells, but not alpha-tocopherol, the main type of the vitamin found in human tissue, according to the Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University.
In human studies, vitamin E has shown some benefit for certain cancers, such as bladder cancer, according to a November 2014 meta-analysis in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. However, it does not provide similar results for prostate cancer. In fact, under certain circumstances, it may even increase men's risk of developing the disease.
The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), results of which were published in February 2014 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, examined the effects of supplemental vitamin E and the mineral selenium on prostate cancer risk in men.
Neither vitamin E nor selenium had any positive effects on prostate cancer risk. In fact, there was a 17 percent increased risk of prostate cancer in men with low selenium status who took supplemental vitamin D. Selenium supplementation also increased the risk in men with high selenium status.
The researchers concluded that men should avoid selenium and vitamin E supplementation at doses exceeding the recommended dietary intake. Most of the mainstream medical community agrees. The Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University, for instance, revised its previous recommendation that people take higher-dose vitamin E supplements, and it now recommends taking a multivitamin that provides only the RDI.
However, as a review article in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research in June 2016 points out, the SELECT study used only alpha-tocopherols. Most past studies have also primarily examined alpha-tocopherols, the authors report. Supplementing with high-dose alpha-tocopherol when that type of the vitamin is already abundant in the human body may have been a contributing factor to the poor research results.
The review suggests that other forms of vitamin E may, in fact, be effective in prostate cancer prevention — especially in early or precancerous stages — and should be further investigated in future intervention studies.
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Vitamin E Benefits for Men
Due to the mixed results and the need for further research, there isn't enough evidence to support the use of supplemental vitamin E for men's health and prevention or treatment of two of the most prevalent health concerns for men.
However, it is important that men get enough dietary vitamin E. Maintaining normal vitamin E levels may be more effective for preventing disease than supplementation, and is certainly safer at this point, until more research proves otherwise.
According to the National Academies of Medicine, the recommendation for daily intake of vitamin E for men's health is 15 mg per day. According to the NIH, some of the richest food sources of the nutrient include:
- Wheat germ oil: 20.3 mg per tablespoon
- Sunflower seeds (dry roasted): 7.4 mg per ounce
- Almonds (dry roasted): 6.8 mg per ounce
- Sunflower oil: 5.6 mg per tablespoon
- Hazelnuts (dry roasted): 4.3 mg per ounce
- Peanut butter: 2.9 mg per 2 tablespoons
- Spinach: 1.9 mg per half-cup, boiled
Vitamin E deficiency is rare, reports Harvard Medical School. Most adults get plenty of the vitamin in their diet; however, certain uncommon medical conditions, such as fat absorption problems or rare genetic disorders, may affect vitamin E status. A low-fat diet could also lead to a deficiency.
If you think you may have a deficiency, speak with your doctor. Signs of a vitamin E deficiency include weakness, numbness or pain in the extremities (neuropathy), impaired coordination (ataxia) and poor immune response. In cases of deficiency, a supplement, possibly a high-dose supplement, may be necessary.
- Colorado State University: "Fat-Soluble Vitamins: A, D, E, and K"
- NIH: "Vitamin E"
- International Journal of Inflammation, Cancer and Integrative Therapy: "Inflammation, Free Radical Damage, Oxidative Stress and Cancer"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Heart Attack Gender Gap"
- BMJ: "Efficacy of Vitamin and Antioxidant Supplements in Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials"
- American Cancer Society: "Key Statistics for Prostate Cancer"
- Oregon State University: "Vitamin E"
- International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine: "Vitamin C and E Intake and Risk of Bladder Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies"
- Journal of the National Cancer Institute: "Baseline Selenium Status and Effects of Selenium and Vitamin E Supplementation on Prostate Cancer Risk"
- Oregon State University: "Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer in Healthy Men"
- Molecular Nutrition and Food Research: "Tocopherols in Cancer: An Update"
- National Academies of Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Easy Does It With Vitamin E"
- Rice University: Antioxidants and Free Radicals