Vitamin E’s Antioxidant Role in Supporting Female Fertility: Research in Brief
Last updated March 23, 2021
A plant-derived antioxidant, Vitamin E has been an active topic of research in reproductive health arena. While the mechanism of action and the optimal method of supplementation are still being investigated, scientists have connected vitamin E to multiple aspects of female fertility, as well as fetal and neonatal health. We take a look at a recent review that summarizes the state of the vitamin E research as it relates to fertility and pregnancy.
- Title: Vitamin E as an Antioxidant in Female Reproductive Health
- Authors: Siti Syairah Mohd Mutalip, Sharaniza Ab-Rahim and Mohd Hamim Rajikin
- Publication date: January 26, 2018
- Journal: Antioxidants
- Study type: Review
- In animal studies, vitamin E supplementation was shown to counter the negative effects of nicotine, a known inducer of oxidative stress. In one study, rats that were given vitamin E were more than 2.5 times as likely to have a pregnancy than those that were not (83% vs. 33%).
- In multiple animal models, embryos cultured in a medium containing vitamin E were more likely to develop into the blastocyst stage. They were developmentally ahead of the non-treated embryos, even days after transfer. Some studies also showed that the addition of vitamin E in the culture medium reduced DNA fragmentation.
- Vitamin E has been shown to slow apoptosis of the ovarian cells from oxidative stress induced by a a chemotherapy drug called cyclophosphamide.
- Women who suffer from recurrent pregnancy loss (multiple miscarriages) were found to have lower levels of serum vitamin E, along with higher lipid peroxidation (degradation of lipids) levels.
Vitamin E for Female Fertility
Vitamin E is a group of 8 chemical compounds called tocopherols (TOCs) and tocotrienols (TCTs). Only one form of them, alpha-tocopherol, is used by the human body. Interestingly, vitamin E has been closely associated with fertility since it was first described by Evans and Bishop in 1922: They described in the journal Science an “anti-sterility factor X” that, in addition to the already known vitamin B and C, was necessary in normal reproduction. This mysterious “factor X” was isolated from wheat germ, and named vitamin E in 1936.
In the last three decades, numerous studies have demonstrated that vitamin E functions as an antioxidant that protects various biological functions and organs – including reproductive functions and organs - from oxidative stress. Vitamin E essentially scavenges reactive oxygen species (ROS, a type of unstable, reactive molecule that damages DNA and other components of cells), preventing ROS from causing harm and cell death. A randomized, double-blinded controlled trial found that pregnant women who were antioxidant-deficient had significantly better maternal and perinatal outcomes when supplementing with a mix of antioxidants, including 400 IU of vitamin E than those who received a placebo. Pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, intrauterine growth restriction and pre-labour rupture of membranes are all associated with low levels of vitamin E.
Vitamin E for a Healthy Baby
Vitamin E also prevents ROS-induced deterioration of other fertility-benefiting compounds, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids. Since one of the polyunsaturated fatty acids is omega-3/DHA, which supports the baby’s brain development, sufficient intake of vitamin E before and during pregnancy may be important for the healthy neural development of the baby. Other studies have found close associations between vitamin E deficiency and poorer maternal and neonatal outcomes.
What This Means for You and Your Fertility
- Aim fo 15 mg. National Institutes of Health recommends 15 mg (22 IU) of alpha-tocopherol for adult women, as well as pregnant women. During lactation, 19 mg (28 IU) is recommended.
Eat nuts, seeds and vegetables. Because a wide variety of foods contain Vitamin E, deficiency is rare in the developed world, but it’s a good idea to make sure your diet contains enough of this antioxidant. Synthesized naturally by plants, vitamin E is abundant in plant-based oils, nuts, seeds and green, leafy vegetables. Foods high in vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds: 7.4 mg in 1 oz
- Almonds: 6.8 mg in 1 oz
- Safflower oil: 4.6 mg in 1 tablespoon
- Peanut butter: 1.5 mg in 1 tablespoon
- Spinach (boiled): 1.9 mg in ½ cup
- Broccoli (boiled): 1.2 mg in ½ cup
- Eat it with (healthy) fat. Since vitamin E is a fat-soluble compound, eating vitamin E-rich foods with healthy fat increases absorption. Nuts are fantastic, as they already come with healthy fat. Spinach or broccoli sautéed in olive oil is another easy way to deliver this antioxidant to your system.
- Take it with vitamin C. Vitamin E and Vitamin C are known to work synergistically in preventing oxidative stress. Many fruits and leafy vegetables, such as berries, avocado, tomato, spinach and broccoli are a good source of both vitamin E and C.
- People with digestive disorders or who have difficulty absorbing fats may be deficient in vitamin E. This includes people with cystic fibrosis, celiac disease and pancreatitis.
Whether pre-conception and pregnant women should take vitamin E supplements is still being debated. As always, we recommend discussing your supplementation with your healthcare team – after all, they are the one who knows you best and can tailor supplements and treatments to your unique needs. If you or your team have any questions, please reach out. We are with you.
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