Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant in many foods. It supports the immune system, helps keep blood vessels healthy, and plays a role in gene expression and cell signaling.
There are eight forms of naturally occurring vitamin E, and alpha-tocopherol is the one that the body mainly uses.
In this article, we explore evidence of specific health benefits of vitamin E. We also look at food sources and supplements, including interactions and other risks.
Free radicals are molecules generated as a normal part of metabolism. They can cause damage and disease and contribute to the aging process.
Additionally, vitamin E is important for immune function, gene expression, and cell signaling. It helps widen blood vessels and prevent excessive clotting.
Researchers have investigated whether vitamin E may also help prevent or treat specific conditions.
The results concerning many uses of the vitamin, including to help prevent cognitive decline, are conflicting or inconclusive.
Despite a general lack of strong conclusions, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) cite some research suggesting that vitamin E might have particular benefits for people with:
Coronary heart disease
In vitro research indicates that vitamin E inhibits the formation of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and may thus help prevent blood clots. In addition, several observational studies associate lower rates of heart disease with higher vitamin E intakes.
However, some randomized clinical trials cast doubt on the ability of vitamin E supplements to help prevent CHD.
Overall, the NIH observe, determining whether vitamin E supplements benefit people with CHD will require more extended studies that include younger participants.
Vitamin E may help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
However, they acknowledge that the evidence supporting the use of vitamin E to treat or prevent eye disorders is inconsistent.
Researchers have investigated the antioxidant and immune-modulating effects of vitamin E on cancer. For example, an older study, from 2002, found that long-term vitamin E supplementation may reduce death from bladder cancer.
The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial found that males taking vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer, but that participants who also took supplements of the trace mineral selenium did not have an increased risk.
Overall, a person should not take vitamin E or selenium supplements for cancer prevention, as researchers do not fully understand how these supplements work.
They are also unsure whether these supplements interact with foods, other supplements, and medicines.
The NIH warn of health risks associated with vitamin E supplements.
They cite research linking using high-dose vitamin E supplements to increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which results from bleeding in the brain, and prostate cancer.
They also report that vitamin E supplements may increase the risk of bleeding in people taking anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin).
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Authors of a 2015 review found that the available research does not support taking vitamin E supplements during pregnancy.
The nutrient does not help prevent pregnancy problems and may cause abdominal pain and early rupture of membranes, the team reports.
Research into vitamin E and lactation is scarce. Overall, anyone who is breastfeeding should speak with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.
Vitamin E is in many foods and also available as a supplement.
Foods rich in vitamin E
A person can find vitamin E in:
- seeds, such as sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- vegetable oils, such as wheat germ, sunflower, or safflower oil
- nuts, including almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts
- nut butters
- green vegetables, such as spinach, collard greens, and broccoli
- red bell peppers
- many fortified foods, such as cereals, fruit juices, and margarine
Below, learn how much vitamin E is in specific foods:
|Food||Milligrams of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)|
|Sunflower seeds (1 ounce, dry roasted)||9.8|
|Sunflower oil (1 tablespoon)||5.6|
|Hazelnuts (1 ounce, dry roasted)||4.3|
|Peanut butter (2 tablespoons)||2.9|
|Spinach (1 cup, boiled)||1.9|
|Broccoli (1/2 cup, chopped and boiled)||1.2|
|Mango (1/2 cup, sliced)||0.7|
Vitamin E supplements are available in natural or synthetic forms.
The NIH note that manufacturers usually label natural forms with the letter “d,” as in “d-gamma-tocopherol.” They label synthetic forms “dl,” as in “dl-alpha-tocopherol.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have required manufacturers to list vitamin E quantities in milligrams (mg) since January 2020. Smaller companies may still use old labels listing the contents in international units (IU) until January 2021.
People can convert IU to mg using the following formulae:
- 1 IU of the natural form is equivalent to 0.67 mg of alpha-tocopherol.
- 1 IU of the synthetic form is equivalent to 0.45 mg of alpha-tocopherol.
People can convert mg to IU with the following formulae:
- 1 mg of the natural form of alpha-tocopherol is 1.49 IU.
- 1 mg of the synthetic form of alpha-tocopherol is 2.22 IU.
The recommended daily allowance, or RDA, of vitamin E varies, depending on a person’s age and breastfeeding status:
|Age (years)||Dose (mg)||Dose in natural form (IU)||Dose in synthetic form (IU)|
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant nutrient that supports the immune system and the health of the blood and blood vessels. It is also involved in gene expression and cell signaling.
People usually get enough vitamin E from a healthful diet that contains adequate fats. Vitamin E-rich foods include nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. However, health issues that affect the absorption of nutrients may cause a person to develop a deficiency.
Research into the capacity of vitamin E to prevent or treat specific health issues is generally conflicting. However, further studies may confirm suggested benefits for people with heart disease or age-related macular degeneration.
Anyone taking ongoing medication should check with a doctor before taking vitamin E supplements. Consulting an oncologist first is crucial for people who have cancer, especially if they are currently undergoing treatment.