Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that primarily functions as an antioxidant, meaning it helps prevent or reduce damage caused by free radicals, ultimately reducing the risk of health problems like heart disease or cancer.
Vitamin E exists in several forms. The one you need to pay attention to is alpha-tocopherol. It is the most active form of vitamin E, is found in the largest quantities throughout the body and, thus, has the greatest nutritional significance. Alpha-tocopherol is found naturally in foods but also found in supplements and added to fortified foods. Other forms of vitamin E have not been shown to contribute to meeting our vitamin E requirements. Vitamin E supplements are sold in both synthetic (labeled “D, L”) and natural (labeled “D”) forms. Research suggests that synthetic forms are only half as active as natural forms.
Vegetable oils (such as sunflower, canola, safflower or olive oils), unprocessed cereal grains, nuts and seeds are the main dietary sources of vitamin E. Smaller amounts are found in some fruits and vegetables, such as avocados and spinach. Most good sources of vitamin E also happen to be considered heart-healthy fats. How about that? A two for one! Some experts believe it is difficult to achieve the RDA for vitamin E without going over the recommended fat intake. We know you want to make your food choices count, so if you are concerned about your vitamin E intake, use our interactive food library to find the E content of your foods or to build a personalized vitamin E-rich menu. If your diet doesn’t meet your needs, a 100% DV multivitamin will help you fill the gap.
Vitamin E deficiency is very rare. So rare, in fact, that deficiency symptoms in individuals consuming diets low in E have never been observed. Deficiency usually only occurs in individuals with fat malabsorption syndromes (e.g., Crohn’s, inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease) or protein-energy malnutrition. Signs and symptoms of this include peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and feet), impaired balance and coordination, muscle weakness, and damage to the retina.
Excess intake of naturally occurring vitamin E from foods does not seem to be toxic in healthy individuals. However, the safety of vitamin E supplementation—especially over several months or years—is uncertain. Observed adverse effects from high-dose vitamin E-containing supplements may include an increased likelihood of hemorrhage (excessive or uncontrolled bleeding) and impaired blood clotting.
A word of caution to those who are deficient in vitamin K or on anticoagulant therapy: consult with your physician before taking vitamin E supplements. Taking vitamin E at the same time as warfarin has been shown to increase the risk for abnormal bleeding because large doses of vitamin E act like a blood thinner.
The following table lists the recommended intake for healthy people based on current scientific information.