Vitamin E: Sources, Benefits & Risks
Nuts such as almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts are good sources of vitamin E.
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Vitamin E is vital to keeping healthy and preventing various diseases. It can be found in a wide variety of foods, and the best way to consume this vitamin is through a healthy diet. Deficiency is rare, and overdosing by using supplements is a danger.

Vitamin E is a family of fat-soluble compounds. "It occurs naturally in eight different forms, including four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma and delta) and four tocotrienols. Alpha tocopherol is the most common and most potent form of the vitamin," Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of "The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals," told Live Science. 

Good dietary sources of vitamin E include nuts such as almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts, and vegetable oils such as sunflower, wheat germ, safflower, corn and soybean oils, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Sunflower seeds and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli also contain vitamin E.

There are many benefits to getting plenty of vitamin E. It functions mainly as a fat-soluble antioxidant. "It protects cells from damage, and it might aid in lowering a variety of health problems, from heart disease to cancer, and possibly even dementia," said Somer.

Vitamin E has many other functions. In addition to cell protection, vitamin E is vital to a functioning immune system. Vitamin E can also protect eye sight, long-term. A study by the Department of Epidemiology and Health Statistics of the Qingdao University Medical College found that vitamin E intake and high serum tocopherol levels were linked to a decreased risk of age-related cataracts.

"It also functions in the production of hormone-like substances, called prostaglandins that regulate a variety of body processes, including blood pressure, reproduction and muscle contraction. A recent study identified how vitamin E aids in repair of muscles," said Somer.

People with Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, or an inability to secrete bile from the liver into the digestive tract may need to take water-soluble forms of vitamin E, according to the National Institutes of Health, to avoid digestive problems.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin E is 15 milligrams (or 22.4 IU) for people over the age of 14, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Women who are breastfeeding may need a little more E. The RDA for lactating women is 19 mg (28.4 IU). The upper limit for safety is 1,000 mg (1,500 IU).

Most people are able to get enough vitamin E from a healthy diet and do not need supplements. Always consult with a doctor before taking any supplement, especially if you are taking medications. According to, 221 medications are known to interact with vitamin E.

Vitamins are natural and can be healthy, but they should be given the same consideration as drugs. As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin E is stored in the body, and excess is not washed from the body through the urinary tract like water-soluble vitamins, according to the Georgia Highlands College. It can slowly accumulate to toxic levels. This means that a person can overdose on vitamin E. 

Getting vitamin E from foods doesn't seem to be dangerous. The trouble begins when someone takes more than the recommended dosage through supplements, according to NLM. 

According to an article by nutritionist Janis Jibrin, too much supplemental E can cause excessive bleeding and many other symptoms, including fatigue. It is also a mild blood thinner, so excessive doses might not be warranted prior to surgery, advised Somer. 

Furthermore, in a study to prove that taking vitamin E can help with cancer, Johns Hopkins Medical found that taking high doses of vitamin E can instead increase the chances of death. They concluded that large doses of this vitamin should be avoided.

A deficiency in vitamin E is very rare, though some people are more prone to a deficiency. According to the NIH, infants, those with fat malabsorption and abetalipoproteinemia, a condition that prevents the body from completely absorbing certain dietary fats, are more likely to have vitamin E deficiency. Anemia, skeletal myopathy, ataxia, peripheral neuropathy, retinopathy, impairment of the immune response and nerve damage are signs that there may be a deficiency.  

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