This nutrient has long been promoted to help alleviate fibrocystic breast conditions; its use in treating this disorder dates back to the 1960s. Vitamin E has been claimed to alter blood levels of certain hormones, especially progesterone, but this has not yet been proven. A few small studies from the early 1980s did find that vitamin E was effective in reducing symptoms. However, subsequent well-designed studies that looked at the effect of 150, 300 and 600 international units (IU) of vitamin E in larger numbers of women found no effect on breast pain or lumps.4 These studies lasted only two or three months, and it is possible that vitamin E might be beneficial if taken for a longer period of time.
While the evidence does not support the use of vitamin E supplements for managing fibrocystic breast conditions, it is certainly worth a try. If you’ve read my chapter on preventing heart disease, you’ll know that I do recommend taking vitamin E for its potential heart benefits. If you decide to give it a try, here’s what you need to know:
• Take a supplement that provides 400 IU per day.
• Buy a natural source vitamin E supplement (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, studies suggest that your liver prefers the natural form. It incorporates more natural vitamin E into transport molecules.
• Look for a brand that’s labeled “mixed tocopherols” or “mixed vitamin E.” Researchers are learning that one form of the vitamin, called gamma tocopherol, may have extra health benefits.
• The daily upper limit for vitamin E is 1000 IU (natural) or 1500 IU (synthetic).
• If you’re on blood-thinning medication like Coumadin® (warfarin), don’t take vitamin E since it also has slight anti-clotting properties. Talk to your doctor before adding any supplement to your regime.
• Don’t forget about food. While dietary sources of vitamin E can’t give you 400 IU per day, vitamin-E-rich foods like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, wheat germ and leafy green vegetables have plenty of other protective nutrients and natural plant compounds.