Although vitamin E was first discovered as the fertility, or at least the antisterility, nutrient, there is no clear evidence that it enhances fertility if there is not a specific deficiency prior to its use. Many people, especially men, take vitamin E with some claimed success in regard to sexuality and vitality. Much of this effect, however, may be due to the antioxidant function and improved circulation and oxygenation.
Uses: There is quite an extensive list of uses for this popular nutrient, most commonly in the middle-aged and older populations. And there are many positive effects. Some of these claims are backed by good research, and more investigation is being done on vitamin E by medical and nutritional scientists. There is hope that the results of this research will enable us to better understand its mechanisms and apply them most effectively to prevent and treat our industrial-age medical conditions.
The antioxidant function that we have discussed gives vitamin E a variety of uses. The protection of cells and tissues against oxidation and injury from unstable molecules, pollution, and fats may also be the basis for the prevention of aging and many chronic diseases. Claims about vitamin E’s role in preventing premature aging and promoting longevity are big areas of investigation for vitamin E researchers. These claims are often made and with some good reason. Aging, tissue degeneration, and skin changes may be brought about by the damage that free radicals cause to cells unprotected by antioxidant nutrients in the body. Cancer and heart and vascular disease may also be created in this way, and vitamin E therapy may help reduce the risks of these major illnesses. Decreased blood clotting and increased tissue oxygenation may also help reduce symptoms of heart and vascular limitations, such as angina pectoris, intermittent claudication (leg pain with walking due to insufficiency of blood and oxygen, for which vitamin E has clearly been helpful), and problems of arterial spasm. In both congenital and rheumatic heart diseases, vitamin E may help reduce symptoms caused by impaired tissue oxygenation.
Vitamin E may be of help in the prevention of atherosclerosis. Its antioxidant effect reduces thrombin formation and thus helps decrease blood clotting, and it also appears to minimize platelet (blood-clotting component) aggregation and stickiness, aspects that either generate or perpetuate the atherosclerotic process. Vitamin E was thought to raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, especially when they were low; however, recent research suggests it has a very mild, if any, effect in this regard. Vitamin A and E together can help to decrease cholesterol and general fat accumulation. To assist in healing and to minimize clotting, tocopherol is a useful nutrient before and after surgery, but is limited to dosages of 200–300 IUs per day (higher amounts may actually suppress the healing process). Also, pre- and postsurgery, vitamin E neutralizes free radical formation and thus reduces possible problems from that. Recently, this antioxidant effect of vitamin E was shown in cardiopulmonary bypass surgery. In regard to its healing powers, vitamin E is used most commonly both internally and externally to assist in the repair of skin lesions, ulcers, burns, abrasions, and dry skin and to heal and/or diminish the scars caused from injury or surgery. (Vitamin A also appears to work in this regard, possibly even better than E in some instances where skin and tissue healing are needed.) Decreasing scars internally may be important in resolving damage from inflammation of blood vessels and may reduce the potential for clotting and thrombophlebitis. Vitamin E, with the help of vitamins C and P (bioflavonoids), may be useful in preventing progression of varicose veins, more so than treating them once they have occurred.