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Vitamin E

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

Our body needs vitamin E to maintain healthy skin, vision and immune system. It’s an important contributor to fighting infections and maintaining healthy eye function.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant which is believed to have strong beneficial health effects. Vitamin E is one of the most commonly consumed dietary supplements in the United States. 1

What are the exact benefits of vitamin E? Should everyone take vitamin E? Let’s resolve these questions.

What is vitamin E?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin which means the body can only absorb it from food if eaten with fat. Like other micronutrients and vitamins, our body cannot produce vitamin E on its own so it’s essential to get this vitamin from your diet. Vitamin E is naturally contained in a variety of plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, vegetables, and plant oils. 2

As an antioxidant, vitamin E protects the body from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are aggressive oxygen compounds which form during normal metabolic reactions but also as a result of UV light or cigarette smoke. These substances can damage tissues or cells, if not deactivated by antioxidants.

Scientific research is still exploring other possible functions and health-promoting effects of vitamin E.

What is vitamin E good for?

Vitamin E protects the blood vessels and prevents clots from forming. Vitamin E is also one of the most effective nutrients for regulating immune function. This makes it a significant contributor to combating bacterial and viral infections. 3

There are many benefits of vitamin E for skin. It protects us from the harmful effects of sun exposure, and so it’s a common ingredient in sunscreen and skincare products.

But aside from our skin, what else is vitamin E good for? Researchers are currently exploring if high doses of vitamin E can help prevent chronic diseases.

  • Heart disease: observational studies suggest that taking vitamin E reduces the risk of heart disease by 15-25%. 4 Several controlled trials could not find any preventive effects. 4 5
  • Cancer: in general, observational studies could not prove any preventive effect of vitamin E on cancer. However, some studies suggest that it might lower the risk of prostate cancer under certain conditions. 6
  • Neurodegenerative diseases: to date, there is little evidence that vitamin E can help protect against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or ALS. 6

More research is needed to fully understand the effects and health benefits of vitamin E. However, it’s important to know that there is no benefit to our bodies if we consume more vitamin E than we need.

What are vitamin E deficiency symptoms?

Vitamin E is found in many foods and supplements. Therefore, most people consume enough vitamin E through their diet and deficiency is rare. Usually, only people with certain medical conditions lack vitamin E. Patients with pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, or digestive disorders sometimes develop a deficiency.

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include: 7

  • Poor immune function
  • Retinopathy, a damaged retina which leads to impaired vision
  • Ataxia, a condition which affects movement and coordination
  • Muscular weakness
  • Cardiac arrhythmia.

Read more about vitamin deficiency tests if you believe you might not get enough vitamins.

For healthy adults, the daily “Recommended Dietary Allowance” (RDA) for vitamin E is 15 mg. The RDA for pregnant women remains at 15 mg, whereas lactating women are advised to get 19 mg per day. 7

What foods have vitamin E?

As only plants can produce vitamin E, they are very good sources of vitamin E. Foods from animal sources only contain vitamin E in small quantities. Vitamin E-rich foods include: 8

  • Vegetable oils: wheat germ oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil
  • Nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pine nuts
  • Green leafy vegetables: spinach, broccoli
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Avocado
  • Tomato
  • Mango
  • Kiwi

What are side effects of vitamin E?

Vitamin E obtained from food is not harmful. However, there have been some reports of negative effects from vitamin E supplements. Among these are muscle weakness, nausea, diarrhea and fatigue. Taking higher doses may increase the risk of side effects. 9

If you take vitamin E supplements, you should avoid taking too much. A daily dose of up to 540 mg is considered safe and unlikely to be harmful. 2

When is a vitamin E test useful?

A vitamin E test is useful for people who belong to one of the risk groups and experience typical vitamin E deficiency symptoms. If you have an intestinal disease or cystic fibrosis you belong to the risk group.

If you also experience neurological symptoms such as ataxia and muscle weakness, this may indicate a vitamin E deficiency. In this case, a vitamin E test will help to find the cause of your symptoms.

Vitamin E FAQ

Q: What is vitamin E for?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and an antioxidant. It protects our organs, tissues and cells from harmful substances called free radicals.

Q: What is vitamin E oil?

Vitamin E oil is a common ingredient of skincare products. Its antioxidant effects protect the skin from harmful effects of the sun.

Q: What side effects can vitamin E cause?

When consumed from food, vitamin E is unlikely to cause side effects. Supplementing higher doses of vitamin E may cause muscle weakness, diarrhea, and nausea. The most significant risk is bleeding, with doses >1000 mg per day.

Q: When do I need to seek medical help?

Neurological symptoms coupled with certain medical conditions may indicate a vitamin E deficiency. The risk group includes people with CF or intestinal diseases. If you experience these conditions, think about seeking medical help.