Vitamin E, also known as alpha-tocopherol, is an essential nutrient that helps us maintain good health and fight disease. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires fat to be absorbed. Since our bodies cannot produce vitamin E, we must get it through our diet.
The functions of vitamin E are largely attributed to its role as an antioxidant, which is a substance that can protect our cells against damage. As an antioxidant, vitamin E can inactivate free radicals, which are highly reactive substances that can damage our cells.1 In this way, vitamin E may help protect us against diseases like neurodegenerative diseases and heart disease.1,2
Vitamin E is also needed for cell signaling and gene expression, thus helping to activate enzymes involved in a wide range of bodily processes. Additionally, vitamin E may have anti-inflammatory effects, making it an important player in our immune system.3 Vitamin E may also help control blood clotting, thus helping protect us from stroke or heart disease.3
Vitamin E is found in many different foods, including plant oils, legumes, grains, and vegetables. Examples of foods rich in vitamin E include:
You can also get vitamin E as a dietary supplement. Vitamin E supplements come in a variety of forms, including capsules, softgels, and liquid.4
The daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E, or the amount that is likely to meet the needs of most healthy people, is 6 milligrams (mg) for children aged 1-3 years, 7 mg for children aged 4-8 years, 11 mg children aged 9-13 years, and 15 mg for adults and adolescents.5 For women who are breastfeeding, the RDA increases to 19 mg.
With a balanced, varied diet, you shouldn’t have much trouble meeting these recommendations. For reference, just one tablespoon of sunflower oil provides about 5.6 mg of vitamin E, which is about 29% of the RDA for adults.6
Since vitamin E is so widespread in food, deficiency is rare. However, it is still possible. People with malabsorptive diseases like cystic fibrosis or liver disease may be at greater risk of deficiency. This is because these individuals may not be able to adequately absorb fat, which is required to absorb vitamin E.
When vitamin E deficiency does occur, it typically causes neurological symptoms like impaired balance and coordination, nerve damage, and muscle weakness.7 It can also cause retinopathy, which is damage to the eye.5 In severe cases, vitamin E deficiency has been shown to cause cardiomyopathy, which is a disease that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body.7
Vitamin E toxicity from foods has not been reported.5 Excessive intake from supplements, on the other hand, may have negative effects. For example, high doses of vitamin E supplements have been shown to impair blood clotting, thus increasing the risk of hemorrhage (excessive, uncontrolled bleeding).5 Other symptoms of vitamin E toxicity that have been reported include digestive disturbances, fatigue, and muscle soreness.5
The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for vitamin E, which is the maximum daily amount that is unlikely to cause toxicity, is 1,000 mg per day.5 This value only refers to supplemental vitamin E, not vitamin E that is naturally found in food.
Vitamin E is essential for fertility in rats. In fact, vitamin E was originally named “anti sterility factor” because it was observed that rats that lacked vitamin E in their diet could not reproduce.8 However, it’s unclear exactly what role vitamin E plays in human reproductive health.
Not only is vitamin E important within our bodies, but it may also be beneficial when applied topically to our skin (due to its antioxidant properties). Because of this, vitamin E is often added to skincare products, including moisturizers and anti-aging creams.9
You can use a dietary supplement of Vitamin E if you think your diet lacks this nutrient.
Use the list below to check if your diet has enough Vitamin E intake.
This list shows food that are top sources of Vitamin E and the quantity of Vitamin E in 100g of food