Many studies have shown that vitamin E supplements prevent heart attacks in healthy men and women who don’t have existing heart disease. A large study of U.S. nurses, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that women who took supplemental vitamin E—100 international units or IU—for two years had a 41 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to non-users of supplements.14 Studies have also found that vitamin E protects against heart disease in men.
This vitamin is a potent antioxidant. Once consumed from the diet or a supplement, vitamin E makes its way to the liver where it is incorporated into the lipoproteins that transport cholesterol. It is here that vitamin E works to protect these compounds from oxygen damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E may also inhibit blood clot formation and preserve the health of blood vessels that feed the heart.
See the RDA table on page 15 in chapter 1 to see how much vitamin E you need each day. The daily upper limit for vitamin E is 1500 IU of natural vitamin E or 2200 IU of the synthetic form. The best food sources of vitamin E include wheat germ, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, whole grains and kale.
Vitamin E Supplements
Even if you boost your daily intake of vitamin-E-rich foods, you still won’t come close to getting 100 IU, the amount deemed to offer protection in the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study. For this reason, you must rely on a supplement. Here’s what you need to know about vitamin E supplements:
• Take 100 to 400 IU per day. If you’re healthy, there’s no evidence to warrant taking more.
• Buy a natural source vitamin E supplement (or look for d-alpha-tocopherol on the label; synthetic forms are labeled dl-alpha tocopherol). Although the body absorbs both synthetic and natural forms equally well, your liver prefers the natural form. It incorporates more natural vitamin E into carrier molecules.
• Consider choosing a vitamin E supplement that is labeled “mixed tocopherols.” Preliminary research shows that one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherol has potent anti-inflammatory effects in addition to its antioxidant properties. This may play a role in cancer prevention.
• If you’re taking a blood-thinning medication like Coumadin® (warfarin), don’t take vitamin E without your doctor’s approval, since it has slight anticlotting properties.