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Vitamin E

Definition

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin.

Alternative Names

Alpha-tocopherol; Gamma-tocopherol

Function

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects body tissue from damage caused by substances called free radicals. Free radicals can harm cells, tissues, and organs. They are believed to play a role in certain conditions related to aging.

The body also needs vitamin E to help keep the immune system strong against viruses and bacteria.

Vitamin E is also important in the formation of red blood cells and it helps the body use vitamin K. It also helps widen blood vessels and keep blood from clotting inside them.

Cells use vitamin E to interact with each other and carry out many important functions.

Whether vitamin E can prevent cancer, heart disease, dementia, liver disease, and stroke is still not known.

Food Sources

The best way to get the daily requirement of vitamin E is by eating food sources. Vitamin E is found in the following foods:

  • Vegetable oils (such as wheat germ, sunflower, safflower, corn, and soybean oils)
  • Nuts (such as almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts/filberts)
  • Seeds (such as sunflower seeds)
  • Green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and broccoli)
  • Fortified breakfast cereals, fruit juices, margarine, and spreads. Fortified means that vitamins have been added to the food. Check the Nutrition Fact Panel on the food label.

Products made from these foods, such as margarine, also contain vitamin E.

Side Effects

Eating vitamin E in foods is not risky or harmful. In supplement form, however, high doses of vitamin E might increase the risk for bleeding and serious bleeding in the brain.

High levels of vitamin E may also increase the risk of birth defects.

Recommendations

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamins reflect how much of each vitamin most people should get each day.

  • The RDA for vitamins may be used as goals for each person.
  • How much of each vitamin you need depends on your age and gender.
  • Other factors, such as pregnancy, breast-feeding, and illnesses may increase the amount you need.

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine Recommended Intakes for Individuals for vitamin E:

Infants (adequate intake of vitamin E)

  • 0 to 6 months: 4 mg/day
  • 7 to 12 months: 5 mg/day

Children

  • 1 to 3 years: 6 mg/day
  • 4 to 8 years: 7 mg/day
  • 9 to 13 years: 11 mg/day

Adolescents and Adults

  • 14 and older: 15 mg/day
  • Pregnant teens and women: 15 mg/day
  • Breastfeeding teens and women: 19 mg/day

Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.

The highest safe level of vitamin E supplements for adults is 1,500 IU/day for natural forms of vitamin E, and 1,000 IU/day for the man-made (synthetic) form.

References

Escott-Stump S, ed. Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008.

Sarubin Fragaakis A, Thomson C. The Health Professional's Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2007.

Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intake: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2000.


Review Date: 2/18/2013
Reviewed By: Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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