Vitamin E

What Is It

Vitamin E is a generic term for a group of related compounds called tocopherols, which occur in four major forms: alpha-, beta-, delta-, and gamma-tocopherols. Alpha-tocopherol is the most common and most potent form of the vitamin. Because it is fat-soluble, vitamin E is stored for relatively long periods in the body, mainly in fat tissue and the liver. Vitamin E is found in only a few foods, and many of these are high in fat, which makes it difficult to get the amount of vitamin E you require while on a healthy low-fat diet. Therefore, supplements can be very useful in obtaining optimal amounts of this nutrient.

What Does It Do

One of vitamin E’s basic functions is to protect cell membranes. It also helps the body use selenium and vitamin K. But vitamin E’s current reputation comes from its disease-fighting potential as an antioxidant-meaning it assists in destroying or neutralizing free radicals, the unstable oxygen molecules that cause damage to the cells.

Common Uses

  • Helps protect against heart disease, certain cancers, and various other chronic ailments.
  • May delay or prevent cataracts.
  • Enhances the immune system.
  • Protects against secondhand smoke and other pollutants.
  • Aids in skin healing.


By safeguarding cell membranes and acting as an antioxidant, vitamin E may play a role in preventing cancer. Some of the most compelling research to date suggest that vitamin E can help protect against cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, by reducing the harmful effects of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and by preventing blood clots. In addition, vitamin E may offer protection because it works to reduce inflammatory processes that have been linked to heart disease. Findings from two large studies suggest that vitamin E may reduce the risk of heart disease by 25% to 50%- and it may prevent chest pain (angina) as well. And recent findings suggest that taking vitamin E with vitamin C may help block some of the harmful effects of a fatty meal.

Additional Benefits

Because it protects cells from free-radical damage, some experts think that vitamin E may retard the aging process. There is also evidence to suggest that it improves immune function in the elderly, combats toxins from cigarette smoke and other pollutants, treats Parkinson’s disease, postpones the development of cataracts, and slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other research found that vitamin E can relieve the severe leg pain caused by a circulatory problem called intermittent claudication. It may alleviate premenstrual breast pain and tenderness as well. In addition, many people report that applying creams or oils containing vitamin E to skin wounds helps promote healing.

How Much You Need

The RDA for vitamin E is 8 mg for women and 10 mg form men daily – which is equal to 12 to 15 IU. Although this amount may be enough to prevent deficiency, higher doses are needed to provide the full antioxidant effect.

If You Get Too Little:

Intakes of vitamin E below the RDA can lean to neurological damage and shorten the life of red blood cells. If you are eating a balanced diet, however, you are probably not at risk.

If You Get Too Much:

No toxic effects from large doses of vitamin E have been discovered, even at levels as high as 3,200 IU a day. Minor effects, such as headaches and diarrhea, have rarely been reported. But, large doses of vitamin E can interfere with the absorption of vitamin A.

How To Take It


To obtain the disease-fighting potential of vitamin E, many expert recommend 400 800 IU daily in capsule or tablet form. (This total includes amounts you get in a multivitamin.) Doses of up to 1,200 IU have been recommended for people at high risk for heart disease and certain cancers. It may be particularly effective when taken with Vitamins C.

Guidelines For Use:

Try to take vitamin E supplements at the same time each day. Combining it with a meal decreases stomach irritation and increases the absorption of this fat-soluble vitamin. For topical use, break open a capsule and apply the oil directly to your skin, or use a commercial cream containing vitamin E as needed.

Other Sources

Wheat germ is an outstanding dietary source of vitamin E: 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains the equivalent of 54 IU. Beneficial amounts of vitamin E are also found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds (hazelnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds), green leafy vegetables, and whole grains.


  • People on prescription blood thinning drugs (anticoagulants) or aspirin should consult their doctor before using vitamin E.
  • Do not take vitamin E two days before or after surgery.

Latest Findings

  • In a recent study of thousands of smokers, vitamin E supplements reduced the risk of prostate cancer by 33% and the death rate from the disease by 41%. The dosage was 50 IU a day, indicating that even low doses of vitamin E may offer protective benefits.
  • Taking vitamin E supplements may strengthen the immune systems of older people. In a study of 88 healthy subjects age 65 and older, those taking 200 IU of vitamin E each day showed the greatest increase in immune-system responses (such as buildup of antibodies to fight disease).

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