Vitamin E is a member of the fat-soluble family of vitamins that also includes vitamin D, vitamin K and vitamin A. Your body uses it as an antioxidant to protect cells from free radical damage. It's also an important component of the immune system and helps prevent blood platelets from sticking together.
Natural vitamin E exists in eight different forms, but alpha- (or α-) tocopherol is the only form that is recognized to meet human requirements. Raw and roasted nuts and seeds, vegetables oils, cereals and dark green leafy vegetables are all good sources of vitamin E.
Deficiency is rare and is usually due to inflammatory digestive tract disorders that prevent absorption. Symptoms include nerve, muscle and eye problems and a weakened immune system.
The Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies has determined the dietary reference intakes for vitamin E based on age, but it's the same for both genders. Pregnant and breastfeeding women do not require extra vitamin E.
These DRIs represent what is needed by an average healthy person so if you have any health conditions, you should speak to your health care provider about your vitamin E need.
Dietary Reference Intakes
1 to 3 years: 6 milligrams per day
4 to 8 years: 7 milligrams per day
9 to 13 years: 11 milligrams per day
14+ years 15: milligrams per day
Vitamin E supplements, when used with other antioxidants and zinc, has been used successfully to reduce the risk of advanced macular degeneration. Vitamin E supplements may also be beneficial for people with diabetes, but more research is necessary.
Vitamin E supplements have also been recommended for the prevention of heart disease -- probably because of it's 'blood thinning' properties. Early research studies suggested that women who had the lowest intakes of vitamin E had the highest risk of heart disease, but clinical studies haven't indicated that taking supplements reduces the risk of heart disease.
Supplemental vitamin E has also been touted to help with cognitive function in old age -- early studies showed less cognitive decline in people ate diets rich in vitamin E -- but later research studies didn't show any benefit for this either.
So while vitamin E is important, those potential health benefits seen in those early studies were probably due to overall healthy diets and other factors and not the vitamin E intake specifically.
Too Much Vitamin E?
While food sources of vitamin E don't appear to be a problem, you can take too much of the supplement form. Excessive amounts can cause problems with normal blood clotting, and it can interact with some medications.
The Institute of Medicine set the tolerable upper limit for vitamin E supplements at 1,000 milligrams per day. But please speak with your doctor before taking vitamin E supplements.
Also known as: Tocopherol
National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute. "The AREDS Formulation and Age-Related Macular Degeneration." Accessed July 4, 2014. http://www.nei.nih.gov/amd/summary.asp.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. "Vitamin E Fact Sheet for Health Professionals." Accessed July 4, 2014. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/.
Natural Standard. "Vitamin E." Accessed July 4, 2104. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/.
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. "Dietary Reference Intakes - Vitamins." Accessed July 4, 2014. http://iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/DRI_Vitamins.pdf.