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Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. There are eight 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

Vitamin E's functions include:

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

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include:

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

Vitamin E deficiency is rare. In developed countries, vitamin E deficiency is seen only in certain conditions.

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

Vitamin E Toxicity

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
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 cup1.9
Health Implications
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.
  • Patients after 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:

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/wps/portal/usdahome

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

Bariatric surgery. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated January 12, 2013. Accessed February 7, 2013.

Dietary supplement fact sheet: vitamin E. Office of Dietary Supplements: National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/. Updated October 11, 2011. Accessed February 7, 2013.

Lippman SM, Klein EA, Goodman PJ, 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 Jan 7;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 Jan 4;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 Jun;28(3):243-52.

Vitamin E. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated October 23, 2012. Accessed February 7, 2013.

Vitamin E deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated April 27, 2010. Accessed February 7, 2013.



Last reviewed February 2013 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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