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Vitamin E May Alleviate Symptoms of Liver Disease Brought on by Obesity

Vitamin E

Story at-a-glance -

  • Vitamin E may help relieve the majority of symptoms associated with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a common obesity-related fatty liver disease
  • With no known treatment – and often no symptoms until serious damage has occurred – NASH can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver failure; the time to intervene is before permanent liver damage has a chance to occur
  • Researchers also revealed that the improvements in blood vessel function that occur when a smoker quits smoking may be boosted by taking a vitamin E supplement
  • The average American diet supplies considerably less vitamin E than is recommended; if you choose to supplement, avoid synthetic versions labeled as “dl-alpha-tocopherol”

By Dr. Mercola

Obesity is characterized not only by excess fat near the surface of your body, but also excess fat in and around your internal organs.

Sometimes excess fat accumulates in the liver and can lead to inflammation and scarring, which is a serious condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). When your liver becomes fatty and scarred, it can no longer function normally. In its most severe form, this can progress to cirrhosis, liver failure and even death.

Although anyone can develop NASH, especially considering that fructose consumption is a primary cause,1 it’s most common in people who are overweight or obese, and its incidence has been rising along with rates of obesity in the last decade.  So, if you have this disease, of course the very first step would be to limit total fructose to under 15 grams per day (including fruits).

With no known treatment – and often no symptoms until serious damage has occurred – this “silent” disease is one of the greatest obesity-related health risks; for the 63 million Americans currently at risk of NASH, there’s good news: increasing your intake of vitamin E may help significantly.

Vitamin E May Help Alleviate NASH Symptoms

Two new studies recently investigated the role of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant you cannot live without, on NASH. The first tested the hypothesis that low levels of vitamin E may be linked to liver disease and indeed found that in mice bioengineered to have inadequate vitamin E levels there was increased oxidative stress, fat deposition and other signs of liver injury.2

When the mice were supplemented with vitamin E, the majority of NASH-related symptoms were relieved.

Likewise, a second study looking into the role of vitamin E on NASH showed that rats with the liver disease that were supplemented with both full spectrum d-mixed tocotrienols and alpha-tocopherol had multiple improvements compared to those supplemented with only alpha-tocopherol or mixed tocotrienols.3 Benefits included:

  • Reduced triglyceride accumulation in the liver
  • Decreased level of lipid peroxides
  • Improved liver damage markers
  • Inhibited liver fibrosis (scarring)

“This study shows us that taking both natural full spectrum tocotrienol complex and alpha-tocopherol together help to synergistically improve NASH and support healthy liver,” the researchers said.4

NASH is often a slow-growing disease than can take years or decades to progress. The process can stop and even spontaneously reverse, or it may progress with worsening scarring to cirrhosis. Once this occurs, the disease progression will continue on to liver failure and little can be done to stop it.

Supplementing with vitamin E, or increasing intake via your diet, may therefore be a crucial step that can help you halt the progression of this disease.

Along with losing weight if you’re overweight (which means following a healthy diet and exercising), and avoiding increased stresses on your liver, such as alcohol, excessive amounts of fructose and unnecessary medications, making sure you’re getting adequate vitamin E is a step anyone at risk of NASH should proactively take. The time to intervene is before permanent liver damage has a chance to occur.

Vitamin E May Boost the Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking

It’s not only your liver that stands to benefit from adequate intakes of vitamin E. Researchers recently revealed that the improvements in blood vessel function that occur when a smoker quits smoking may be boosted by taking a vitamin E supplement.5

Seven days after quitting, the former smokers had an increase in vascular function (the blood vessel’s ability to dilate) by an average of 2.8 percent. However, those who also took gamma-tocopherol vitamin E had an additional 1.5 percent improvement. This might not sound like much, however each 1 percent increase in vascular function is equivalent to a 13 percent reduction in the risk of developing heart disease later in life6 -- so the additional 1.5 percent improvement is significant.

The former smokers who took the vitamin E supplement also had lower levels of inflammatory proteins that are linked to heart disease, which suggests the vitamin E may help smokers’ bodies to return to a healthy state sooner, and even potentially reverse some of the damage smoking caused.

While the most studied form of vitamin E is alpha tocopherol, the most abundant form found in your body, this research used gamma tocopherol, which is the most commonly occurring natural form of vitamin E in the US diet, found in foods such as walnuts and pecans. While natural alpha tocopherol has incredible antioxidant benefits and is important, it’s becoming increasingly clear that each of the eight members of the vitamin E family provide their own unique benefits, which is why choosing a supplement with mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols is so important.

Richard Bruno, the study’s lead author, explained:7

We used the gamma tocopherol type in contrast to virtually all other vitamin E studies that use alpha tocopherol … Alpha tocopherol is the one that we know the most about. It is the form that we know is required for humans, but gamma tocopherol is the most abundant form. We used the gamma tocopherol form because not only does it have antioxidant activity, like alpha tocopherol, but recent evidence indicates that it also has effective ability to lower inflammation and also trap what we call reactive nitrogen species. These are chemicals generated in the body that can lead to damage to various proteins.”

Most Americans Need More Vitamin E Than Their Diets Provide

Your body likely needs more than the US Daily Value (DV) of 22 IU vitamin E daily, yet the average American diet supplies considerably less than even this amount. Renowned international researcher Dr. Evan Shute, a physician recognized for his 30-plus years of work with vitamin E, suggests average healthy women should have 400 IU a day, while men should have 600 IU daily. Even the National Institutes of Health states:8

The diets of most Americans provide less than the recommended amounts of vitamin E.”

What are some of the best dietary sources of vitamin E?

  • Nuts, such as hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts and pecans
  • Legumes,
  • Green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli

Vegetable oils, including sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oil, also contain vitamin E, however there are a number of reasons for avoiding these oils in your diet, including the facts that they will become rancid and oxidized when heated, and typically are made from genetically engineered crops. Breakfast cereals are also commonly fortified with vitamin E, but even the “healthy” low-sugar varieties will spike both blood sugar and insulin in your body, making them a poor choice nutritionally speaking.  So there are actually relatively few healthful dietary sources of vitamin E, which is why a supplement may be necessary.

A Warning About Synthetic Vitamin E Supplements

If you do choose to take a vitamin E supplement, it is very important to avoid synthetic versions, which are listed as “dl-alpha-tocopherol” on labels. For starters, the natural form of vitamin E -- listed as "d-alpha-tocopherol” – is more potent; 100 IU of natural vitamin E is equal to about 150 IU of the synthetic form.9

Further, as noted by GreenMedInfo, “synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol is a byproduct of a petrochemical-dependent manufacturing process and may have adverse endocrine-disrupting activities.”10 It is this synthetic form of vitamin E that has been linked to increased risks of prostate cancer, along with other ill effects such as a hemorrhagic stroke and pneumonia.11

Ideally, you'll want to get the majority of the nutrients you need from your food, which means you have to eat whole, preferably organic foods—not processed foods fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals. Then, depending on your health status, you should evaluate whether or not you might need to take a supplement such as natural vitamin E to help address a particular health problem or counter any particular deficiency in your diet.  No matter what type of supplement you are considering, be sure you choose the most natural form, which will be closest to the form found in food, available.