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Vitamin E

Other name(s):

alpha tocopherol, alpha-tocopherol, tocotrienol, 5,7,8 trimethyl-tocotrienol

General description

Vitamin E is a series of fat-soluble compounds called tocopherols. Fat-soluble means it can dissolve in fats and oils. Alpha-tocopherol is the most potent and widely used form of vitamin E. Tocopherols are found in the oily residue of plants. They’re also found in plants and have vitamin E-like effects.

Vitamin E is a major antioxidant in the body. It works with selenium to help prevent the breakdown of certain enzymes that are vital to the body's metabolism. Vitamin E is found in all cell membranes of the body. It protects them from oxidative damage.

Medically valid uses

Vitamin E has been used to treat respiratory distress syndrome in preterm babies. Vitamin E prevents disease of the retina (retrolental fibroplasia) in preterm babies on oxygen. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant in the human body. It helps the immune system fight infections. It widens blood vessels. This helps to keep clots from forming in them.

Unsubstantiated claims

There may be benefits that have not yet been proven through research.

Vitamin E may protect the body from environmental hazards. Most research shows that vitamin E doesn't help prevent cancer. And it may be harmful in some cases. Vitamin E supplements and other antioxidants might change the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. People having these treatments should talk with their healthcare provider or oncologist before taking vitamin E or other supplements.

The results of research are not certain on if vitamin E alone, or with other antioxidants, can help prevent age-related macular degeneration. A supplement with large doses of vitamin E plus other antioxidants, zinc, and copper showed good results for slowing down the rate of vision loss. Vitamin E may help:

  • Treat cystic fibrosis

  • Treat breast disease

  • Treat leg muscle pains

  • Improve wound healing

  • Prevent heart disease

  • Improve sexual function

  • Athletic performance

  • Scar healing

  • Prevent Alzheimer's disease

Recommended intake

Vitamin E is measured in both International Units (IU) and milligrams (mg).  RDA is the Recommended Dietary Allowance.

Group

RDA/IU (dL-alpha-tocopherol)

RDA/mg (alpha-tocopherol)

Infants (0–6 months)*

6 IU

4 mg

Infants (6 months to 1 year)*

7.5 IU

5 mg

Children (1–3 years)

9 IU

6 mg

Children (4–8 years)

10.4 IU

7 mg

Children (9–13 years)

16.4 IU

11mg

Children and adults (14 years and older)

22.4 IU

15 mg

Pregnant women

22.4 IU

15 mg

Breastfeeding women

28.4 IU

19 mg

* Adequate Intake (AI)

Vitamin E is a thick, yellowish oil. It is sold as a soft oral capsule. It comes in strengths from 100–1,000 IU. It also comes as a chewable tablet and an oral solution. The strength of the oral solution is 50 mg/ml. Vitamin E oil is also available.

You should swallow vitamin E capsules whole. Don’t chew them.

Food source

Nutrient content per 100 grams

Wheat germ

160 mg

Sunflower seeds

31 mg

Walnuts

22 mg

Corn oil

21 mg

Margarine

17.9 mg

Almonds

14.9 mg

Cabbage

7.0 mg

Peanuts

6.9 mg

Brazil nuts

6.5 mg

Cashew nuts

5.1 mg

Vitamin E is stable at room temperature. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated. It isn’t destroyed by cooking. It stays active in foods that have been frozen.

Vitamin E is also stable in light and in acid and alkali.

You may need more vitamin E if you have any of these:

  • A malabsorption syndrome with steatorrhea (excess fat in the stool)

  • Lactose intolerance

  • Tropical and non-tropical sprue

  • Celiac disease

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Ulcerative colitis

  • Pancreatitis

  • Surgery to remove all or part of the pancreas (pancreatectomy)

You may need more vitamin E if you: 

  • Are over age 55

  • You drink moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol

  • Have chronic alcoholism

  • Have a liver disease, such as cirrhosis

Vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage. This causes:

  • Loss of feeling in the arms and legs

  • Loss of body movement control

  • Muscle weakness

  • Vision problems

It can also cause a weakened immune system. It may cause an increased risk for hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), cancer, and cataracts.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need to take supplements. But talk to your healthcare provider before doing so.  

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency in newborn babies include:

  • Hemolytic anemia

  • Disease of the retina (retinopathy

  • Swelling

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Vitamin E is a relatively safe vitamin. Vitamin E is fat soluble and can build up in the tissues of the body. But this is rare. Symptoms of too much vitamin E include:

  • Fatigue

  • Weakness

  • Nausea

  • Blurred vision

  • Gas

  • Diarrhea

Vitamin E can increase the effects of oral blood-thinning medicines (anticoagulants). This may cause an increased clotting time and bleeding.

Large doses of vitamin E can decrease your body's vitamin A reserves.

Online Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Godsey
Online Medical Reviewer: Diane Horowitz MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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