This vitamin works as an antioxidant for your body and also supports your immune system. Through these effects - and possibly more that are not yet clearly understood - it can offer many benefits to your health.
Here's everything you need to know about vitamin E - from which foods are rich with it, to why it's important and what happens when you don't get enough.
Vitamin E Benefits
While scientists don’t know everything about how vitamin E works, it overall seems like it’s very important for us to have our baseline requirements of this vitamin for our bodies to function properly and perhaps to help protect us from certain diseases. However, it doesn’t seem like taking more of the vitamin than we need gives us additional benefits, and overdoses can be harmful.
What is Vitamin E Good For?
1) Antioxidant Effects
Antioxidants are compounds that help protect the cells in our body from damage caused by free radicals.
Free radicals are damaging particles that some people suspect contribute to many diseases including heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and some types of cancer.
Free radicals can be develop in our body throughout the process of normal metabolism. More of these free radicals can be produced when we’re exposed to toxic compounds like pollution, smoking/drugs, and UV sunlight (1).
While we do need a certain amount of vitamins like vitamin E that serve as antioxidants in our body to help balance these free radicals, eating more antioxidants doesn’t necessarily fight off more free radicals, or prevent their downstream health effects.
2) Immune Support
Supporting the immune system is another important benefit of vitamin E. It probably does this at a cellular level by helping some immune cells to function more effectively.
3) Blood Vessel Health
Vitamin E seems to help our blood vessels to be stronger and helps to promote them to stay clean (avoiding diseases like atherosclerosis)(2) .
4) Vision Changes
Some studies support that a combination of vitamins including vitamin E, zinc, beta carotene, and vitamin C may contribute to helping prevent a vision problem called macular degeneration. However, when vitamin E was taken only without the combination of these other vitamins, this benefit wasn’t seen (3).
5) Heart Disease
Some propose that vitamin E supplements may help prevent heart disease. While some early studies suggested mixed results, there has not been enough evidence yet to show that there is significant benefit in supplementing additional vitamin E for our hearts (4).
6) Neurodegenerative Disease
It has also been suggested that vitamin E can help prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease. Similar to heart disease and cancer, there hasn’t been any significant findings that additional supplementation beyond the baseline levels we all need are helpful in protecting us from these conditions (3).
While some people propose that vitamin E may help prevent some forms of cancer, this has yet to be shown to be true. Studies so far have shown no benefit in supplementing additional vitamin E to prevent cancer (4).
8) Vitamin E for Skin
This vitamin is so popular for skin products because it’s long been thought to protect skin from ultraviolet light (sun) and other damaging exposures. While it continues to be frequently recommended for a variety of conditions, there aren’t many well done trials evaluating how effective vitamin E really is for our skin, or how much of it we should be utilizing topically.
Until better studies elucidate the effectiveness of the vitamin for this condition, topically applied vitamin E could be worth a try if recommended by your dermatologist as it has very few side effects. And of course making sure we don’t have a deficiency is important for many reasons (5).
Vitamin E Deficiency
Luckily, true vitamin E deficiencies are rare. Most people have enough of this micronutrient as it’s found in a variety of readily accessible foods.
The most common cause of deficiencies occur in people who have conditions that limit their ability to absorb the vitamin from their intestines. Therefore people with absorption diseases like cystic fibrosis, celiac’s disease, pancreatitis or Crohn’s disease have an increased risk for having low levels of this micronutrient (6).
Severe Vitamin E Deficiency Symptoms (4)
- Peripheral Neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the legs and arms)
- Ataxia (abnormal body movements)
- Vision Problems
- Generalized Muscle Weakness
Vitamin E Dosage
People may require different amounts of this vitamin at different ages. The quantity is often described in terms of international units (IU).
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend to ensure the following amounts of vitamin E (1):
Life StageRecommended Amount
Birth to 6 month s4 mg (6 IU)
Infants 7-12 months 5 mg (7.5 IU)
Children 1-3 years 6 mg (9 IU)
Children 4-8 years 7 mg (10.4 IU)
Children 9-13 years 11 mg (16.4 IU)
Teens 14-18 years 15 mg (22.4 IU)
Adults15 mg (22.4 IU)
Pregnant teens and women15 mg (22.4 IU)
Breastfeeding teens and women19 mg (28.4 IU)
Too Much Vitamin E
You don’t need to worry about getting an overdose from the foods you eat. However, too much of anything can be harmful and it’s important to avoid taking too high doses of vitamins.
Never take more than 1000 mg (about 1450 IU) of supplements daily. These large doses can have side effects including increased risk of bleeding. This is particularly important for people who are on blood thinners (3).
Vitamin E Foods
Because it is an essential vitamin, it is added to many common foods like juices and cereals. This process is called being ‘fortified’ (7).
Other Vitamin E Sources
Vitamin E supplements can come in a variety of options.
This is partially because there are actually many different forms of the vitamin, 8 to be exact. The body is able to most easily use a form called α-tocopherol.
Dietary supplements of vitamin E are not needed for most people, as most of us can easily get the values we need from our diet. Because it is a fat soluble vitamin, the liver can store extra for use when we aren’t getting quite as much as we need for the day.
Vitamin E Capsule
A common form of supplements you can ingest are capsules. Again, more isn’t always better. These usually aren’t necessary for otherwise healthy people eating a balanced diet.
Vitamin E Oil & Vitamin E Cream
There are many over the counter options you can purchase as a topical vitamin you can apply to your skin The problem is that many of these may not be effective because the composition of the vitamin can become unstable and stop working when it’s exposed to the air and other elements.
Some special formulations are thought to be more effective in helping to promote stability for the vitamin - one of which includes α-tocopherol combined with ascorbic acid and ferulic acid (5).
Even with these special formulations, there isn’t any good evidence to show that any of these creams or oils are helpful.
Bottom line: Eating a combination of proteins, vegetables, fruits and some common whole grains will ensure that you’re getting enough vitamin E in your diet. If you’re concerned about not having enough, never take more than the recommended supplement dose and work with your doctor to help find the optimal micronutrient balance for you.