Image for nut articleVitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. There are eight different forms of vitamin E, and each has its own biologic activity. Alpha-tocopherol is the most active form of vitamin E in humans. It is an antioxidant—a substance that acts to protect the body's cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are normal by-products of metabolism, but they can cause cell damage.

Functions

Vitamin E's functions include:

  • Acting as an antioxidant in the body
  • Maintaining the integrity of cell membranes
  • Helping with immune system function

Recommended Intake:

Age GroupRecommended Dietary Allowance
FemalesMales
1-36 milligrams (mg)6 mg
4-87 mg7 mg
9-1311 mg11 mg
14-1815 mg15 mg
14-18 lactation19 mgn/a
19+15 mg15 mg
19+ lactation19 mgn/a

Vitamin E Deficiency

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include:

  • Neurologic symptoms, such as impaired balance and coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Anemia
  • Retinal degeneration (thinning of the lining of the inner eye)

Those occur mostly in areas of the world with very poor diets. In developed countries, vitamin E deficiency is seen only in certain conditions.

Vitamin E Toxicity

As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin E is stored in the body and not excreted in the urine like most water-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is possible for vitamin E to accumulate in the body and reach toxic levels. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for vitamin E from dietary sources and supplements combined is 1,000 milligrams. Symptoms of toxicity include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Double vision
  • Nausea, diarrhea , gas

Major Food Sources

FoodServing size Vitamin E content
milligrams (mg)
Wheat germ oil1 tablespoon27.0
Sunflower seeds, dry roasted1 ounce14.3
Sunflower oil1 tablespoon7.1
Hazelnuts, dry roasted1 ounce6.8
Tomato puree, canned1 cup6.3
Safflower oil1 tablespoon6.0
Almond oil1 T5.5
Wheat germ, toasted1/4 cup5.3
Papaya1 medium3.4
Peanut butter, creamy2 tablespoon3.2
Corn oil1 tablespoon3.0
Canola oil1 tablespoon2.9
Avocado1 medium2.3
Mango, raw1 medium2.3
Peanuts, dry roasted1 ounce2.1
Almonds, dry roasted1 ounce1.6
Blueberries1 cup1.5
Broccoli, boiled1/2 cup1.3
Pumpkin, canned1/2 cup1.3

Health Implications

Populations at Risk for Vitamin E Deficiency

The following populations may be at risk for vitamin E deficiency and may require a supplement:

  • People with a reduced ability to absorb dietary fat—Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, fat is required for its absorption. Some conditions that can cause fat malabsorption include Crohn's disease , cystic fibrosis , celiac disease , pancreatic enzyme deficiency, and liver disease.
  • Very low birth weight infants—These infants are usually under the care of a neonatologist, who will evaluate and treat the premature infant's exact nutrition needs.
  • People who suffer from abetalipoproteinemia—This is a rare inherited disorder of fat metabolism that results in poor absorption of dietary fat and vitamin E.
  • Patients on dialysis
  • Patients on chronic parenteral nutrition
  • Patients after gastric bypass surgery

Antioxidant Capabilities

Free radicals are normal by-products of metabolism, but they can cause chain reactions that result in significant cell destruction. This cell destruction can, in turn, increase the risk for chronic diseases, including certain forms of cancer. Antioxidants have the ability to stop this chain reaction. Vitamin E functions in the body as an antioxidant. Because of this antioxidant capability, vitamin E is being studied for a possible role in chronic disease prevention.

It appears that vitamin E may protect against coronary artery disease. In addition, it is claimed to be useful in inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, and in the prevention of some forms of cancer. But, only one study found a decrease in risk for prostate cancer with vitamin E supplementation in a population of male smokers . Definitely, more research is needed in this area.

Tips for Increasing Your Vitamin E Intake:

To help increase your intake of vitamin E:

  • Sprinkle wheat germ on your cereal or oatmeal.
  • Add sunflower seeds or nuts to a salad or stir-fry.
  • Slice mangos or drop blueberries into yogurt for an afternoon snack.
  • If you take a vitamin supplement, make sure it contains vitamin E.