Vitamin E

Image for nut articleVitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. There are 8 different forms of vitamin E—each has its own biologic activity. Alpha-tocopherol is the most active form of vitamin E in humans. It is an antioxidant—a substance that acts to protect the body's cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are normal by-products of metabolism, but they can cause cell damage.

Functions    TOP

Vitamin E's functions include:

  • Acting as an antioxidant in the body
  • Helping with immune system function

Recommended Intake:    TOP

Age GroupRecommended Dietary Allowance
FemalesMales
1-36 milligrams (mg)6 mg
4-87 mg7 mg
9-1311 mg11 mg
14-1815 mg15 mg
19+pregnancy15 mgn/a
19+15 mg15 mg
19+ lactation19 mgn/a

Vitamin E Deficiency    TOP

Vitamin E deficiency is rare. In developed countries, vitamin E deficiency is seen only in certain conditions, such as liver disease or cystic fibrosis.

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include:

  • Neurological symptoms, such as impaired balance and coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Retinal degeneration (thinning of the lining of the inner eye)

People with vitamin E deficiency may also be deficient in vitamins A, D, and K.

Vitamin E Toxicity    TOP

As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin E is stored in the body and is not excreted in the urine like most water-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is possible for vitamin E to accumulate in the body. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for adults of vitamin E from dietary sources and supplements combined is 1,000 milligrams daily. For children the UL is lower.

Major Food Sources    TOP

FoodServing size Vitamin E content
milligrams (mg)
Wheat germ oil1 tablespoon20.3
Sunflower seeds, dry roasted1 ounce7.4
Sunflower oil1 tablespoon5.6
Hazelnuts, dry roasted1 ounce4.3
Safflower oil1 tablespoon4.6
Almonds, dry roasted1 ounce6.8
Peanut butter2 tablespoon2.9
Corn oil1 tablespoon1.9
Mango, raw½ cup0.7
Peanuts, dry roasted1 ounce2.2
Broccoli, boiled½ cup1.2

Health Implications    TOP

Populations at Risk for Vitamin E Deficiency

The following populations may be at risk for vitamin E deficiency and may require a supplement:

  • People with a reduced ability to absorb dietary fat—Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, fat is required for its absorption. Some conditions that can cause fat malabsorption include Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, pancreatic enzyme deficiency, and liver disease.
  • People who have gastric bypass surgery.
  • Very low birth weight infants—These infants are usually under the care of a neonatologist, who will evaluate and treat the premature infant's exact nutrition needs.
  • People who suffer from abetalipoproteinemia—This is a rare inherited disorder of fat metabolism that results in poor absorption of dietary fat and vitamin E.

Antioxidant Capabilities

Free radicals are normal by-products of metabolism, but they can cause chain reactions that result in significant cell destruction. This cell destruction can, in turn, increase the risk for chronic diseases, including certain forms of cancer. Antioxidants have the ability to stop this chain reaction. Vitamin E functions in the body as an antioxidant. Because of this antioxidant capability, vitamin E is being studied for a possible role in chronic disease prevention. However, so far there is not good evidence that vitamin E helps in preventing cancer or heart disease. And in some studies, high doses of supplements actually increased the risk of death.

Tips for Increasing Your Vitamin E Intake:    TOP

To help increase your intake of vitamin E:

  • Sprinkle wheat germ on your cereal or oatmeal.
  • Add sunflower seeds or nuts to a salad or stir-fry.
  • Add mango or blueberries to yogurt for an afternoon snack.
  • If you take a vitamin supplement, make sure it contains vitamin E.

RESOURCES:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org
United States Department of Agriculture
http://www.usda.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca/
Health Canada Food and Nutrition
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/index-eng.php

References

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Updated January 23, 2015. Accessed February 11, 2015.
Dietary supplement fact sheet: vitamin E. Office of Dietary Supplements: National Institutes of Health website. Available at:
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Updated June 5, 2013. Accessed February 11, 2015.
Lippman SM, Klein EA, et al. Effect of selenium and vitamin E on risk of prostate cancer and other cancers: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA. 2009;301(1):39-51.
Miller ER 3rd, Pastor-Barriuso R, Dalal D, Riemersma RA, Appel LJ, Guallar E. Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality. Ann Intern Med. 2005;142(1):37-46.
Stratton J, Godwin M. The effect of supplemental vitamins and minerals on the development of prostate cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Fam Pract. 2011;28(3):243-252.
Vitamin E. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated March 6, 2013. Accessed February 11, 2015.
Vitamin E deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated April 27, 2010. Accessed February 11, 2015.
Last reviewed February 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 2/11/2015

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