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Vitamin E and Thyroid Health

Published February 25 2013

Note: Most people reading this article currently take nutritional supplements, and yet most people don’t have a good understanding about the vitamins and minerals they’re taking.  Because of this, what I’ve decided to do is to write some articles that discuss the different roles of each of the vitamins and minerals in the body, and since this website focuses on thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, I figured it would be a good idea to briefly discuss how they relate to thyroid health.  This article will focus on the importance of vitamin E.

Vitamin E consists of eight different compounds that are synthesized by plants.  There are four different types of “tocopherols”, and four different types of “tocotrienols”.  The former have saturated side chains, while the latter have unsaturated side chains.  Most supplements that are sold on the market as vitamin E consist only of “alpha tocopherol”.  But one must understand that this is not the same as vitamin E.  This is why I recommend whole food supplements, rather than synthetic isolates.  I’ll talk a little more about this shortly.

Vitamin E has many different functions.  It is known as a powerful antioxidant, and so it helps to prevent certain types of cancers from developing.  It also plays a role in cardiovascular health, as it helps to improve blood flow to the extremities.  It also seems to play an important role in immune system health.

Is It Common To Be Deficient In Vitamin E?

As for whether it’s common to be deficient in vitamin E, it depends on what source you look at.  But a number of reputable sources show that many people have low levels of vitamin E, which will make them more susceptible to different health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and disorders of the central nervous system.  Since it also plays a role in immune system health then it makes sense for those people with autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis to make sure they have sufficient levels of this vitamin. 

The problem is that most people who supplement with vitamin E do so by taking alpha-tocopherol.  But as I’ll mention below, you really do want to consume the entire vitamin E complex.  Plus, just as is the case with other vitamins and minerals, vitamin E works synergistically with other nutrients, including selenium, manganese, and fatty acids.

How Does Vitamin E Relate To Thyroid Health?

Vitamin E has a cellular effect on the thyroid gland, along with the adrenals and pituitary gland.  Studies on rats that were deprived of vitamin E showed the thyroid gland to be hypoplastic (underdeveloped).  Vitamin E also works closely with selenium, as both are important for the proper conversion of T4 to T3.

I came across a study that spoke about how people taking levothyroxine and who also supplement with vitamin E can help prevent oxidative stress and cognitive defects.  It discusses how just taking synthetic thyroid hormone alone doesn’t restore these cognitive problems, but adding vitamin E may help with this.

Food Sources of Vitamin E

Both plant and animal foods consist of vitamin E, although plants are considered to provide the richest source of this vitamin.  Wheat germ and safflower oil are two of the richest sources of vitamin E.  This vitamin is also found in green leafy vegetables, eggs, nuts, and legumes.  You can also get some vitamin E through meat and dairy products, but once again, plant sources are considered to be the best.

Supplementing With Vitamin E

As I mentioned earlier, most of the vitamin E supplements sold on the market only contain alpha-tocopherols.  But there are benefits of the other tocopherols, as well as the tocotrienols.  In fact, some research suggests that the tocotrienols might be more powerful antioxidants than the tocopherols.  Plus, there is some evidence that taking alpha-tocopherol alone can cause an imbalance of the other tocopherols.  As a result, I would recommend taking a whole food vitamin E source.  There are some supplements which have mixed tocopherols, and these without question are better to take than alpha tocopherol alone.  But in my opinion it’s still best to take a whole food vitamin E complex, as once again, besides having the tocopherols and tocotrienols, you also want the other nutrients and cofactors.

Ideally one wants to obtain all of their vitamins and minerals from the food they eat, but for various reasons this isn’t feasible these days.  And if someone has a deficiency in vitamin E, supplementation is almost always required to correct this.

Vitamin E Toxicity

High dosages of vitamin E (greater than 1,200 IU per day) can potentially be toxic, although you probably will have to take a lot more than this over a prolonged period of time to experience problems due to a toxicity.  Some of the symptoms of excess vitamin E include nausea, headaches, and diarrhea.  There is some evidence that taking extremely high dosages can decrease thyroid hormone production.  But it is rare for supplementing with vitamin E to cause problems, and usually the problem is when taking synthetic alpha-tocopherol, and not a whole food vitamin E complex.

So hopefully you now have a better understanding of the functions of vitamin E.  Vitamin E can help to prevent cancer and heart disease from developing, increases blood flow to the extremities, and it has a cellular effect on the thyroid gland and plays a role in the conversion of T4 to T3.  Most vitamin E is sold as “alpha-tocopherol”, but just remember that this is just one component of vitamin E, and so if you have a vitamin E deficiency or take vitamin E supplements for any other reason you really do want to take the entire vitamin E complex.