Vitamin E: Forms, Benefits, Sources and Risks

What Benefits Can You Get From Vitamin E And What Are The Sources?

Your ability to see clearly has a connection to vitamin E. And that is just one of several benefits these natural chemical compounds have to offer. Learn about different benefits you stand to gain from the vitamin, its forms and sources, among other information.

What is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E

Discovered in 1922, vitamin E does not refer to a particular substance. It is a collective term that describes a group of compounds exhibiting the activities of the vitamin, as is the case with other vitamins. These compounds include tocopherols and tocotrienols.

Vitamin E is a useful antioxidant, meaning it offers protection against agents that can cause harm to your health. Unlike vitamin C, it is fat soluble. It doesn’t exit your body quickly. Instead, it gets stored up in fat tissues for your body to use as needed.

These naturally occurring compounds are available in eight forms, four each of these are variants of tocopherols and tocotrienols. The forms under each group are differentiated through the use of the Greek prefixes alpha, beta, delta and gamma. Gamma-tocopherol is the form of vitamin E that occurs more in an average diet in North America.

The levels of biological activity of these compounds vary. Alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active form of the vitamin. The liver re-secretes only this form, while it metabolizes and excretes the others. Hence, the levels of the other forms are typically lower.

Vitamin E Deficiency and Symptoms

You may suffer from extremely low levels of vitamin E. The traditional belief is that this rarely happens, even when you get little from your diet. But there is an observation that people are not getting enough of these compounds as needed these days. This insufficient intake seems to affect tocotrienols more.

Deficiency is more likely to occur when you have disorders that affect the absorption of fat. You need fat to maintain sufficient store of vitamin E, being fat soluble. Issues that can affect fat levels include Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), pancreatic insufficiency, liver disease, and cystic fibrosis.

Also, premature babies weighing less than about 3.3 pounds are at increased risk of vitamin E deficiency.

Possible symptoms of a deficiency include:

  • Skeletal myopathy
  • Impairment of immune response
  • Complications affecting the retina
  • Destruction of red blood cells
  • Ataxia (loss of muscle control or coordination)
  • Damage to nerves in the body’s extremities, such as hands and feet

You may lose your ability to walk if you let vitamin E amount reduce to the level where it causes damage to nerves. Retinal degeneration can lead to loss of vision.

What Does Vitamin E Do?

There are numerous claims out there about vitamin E helping in one way or another. And some of these are not empty claims because they are backed by research. Let’s check out a number of ways these natural compounds can benefit your health.

Vision aid

You may know vitamin A to be the one that promotes good eyesight. As it would turn out, vitamin E can also be helpful in this regard. Research suggest that it can help prevent eye disorders, such age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. This makes it especially advisable for older individuals to use.

To improve your vision with this vitamin, you should consider taking it with vitamins A and C. Researchers found in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) that daily usage of a supplement containing these and minerals, such as zinc and copper, reduced risk of advanced AMD by a quarter.

Longevity enhancement

We are most likely right to assume you desire to live a long, healthy life. The amount of effort that goes into maintaining youthful appearance these days is a pointer. Being an antioxidant, vitamin E can help with this.

You are probably aware that a large part of the issues associated with aging is the result of free radical activity. Free radicals are harmful substances that weaken and destroy body cells. The damage they cause shortens the life of cells and, as a result, that of a human being. This damage leads to certain medical conditions that often end in death.

By ensuring you have adequate amount of vitamin E, you are indirectly making effort to extend your lifespan. The compounds reduce the harmful effects of free radicals on your body. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirm that the vitamin can help to slow cell aging.

Immune response boost

You can improve your immune function with vitamin E, given impairment is a possible symptom of deficiency. This can help your body to better fight pathogens that can cause you health problems. For this purpose, the forms alpha-tocotrienol and gamma-tocotrienol are thought to be more beneficial.

Higher GH levels

There is also a claim that vitamin E can help to increase growth hormone production, thus raising levels. An estimate shows you can increase your HGH levels by 23% when you combine with vitamin C. A 1994 study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry seems to back this assertion [1].

The researchers isolated from dried green barley leaf extract a molecule thought to stimulate release of growth hormone and prolactin by the pituitary gland cells in rats. They described it as alpha-tocopherol succinate, a variant of the isomer alpha-tocopherol.

Skin health support

Vitamin E may help you get that great looking skin you have always desired. This is why you will find it among ingredients in some topical beauty solutions. According to research, it reduces the effects of inflammation on your skin and body. You can use it to promote the healing and repair of your skin as well as treat sunburn.

Its potential for faster tissue regeneration makes it a possibly helpful for treatment of acne and scars. The vitamin may help reduce appearance of wrinkles. It strengthens capillary walls for efficient blood flow, while also enhancing moisture and elasticity.

The antioxidant properties on offer make vitamin E appear a great, natural anti-aging remedy. It also means that it can help control the damaging effects of free radicals on your skin.

Mental aid

It has been observed that people with low levels of vitamin E experience a decline in cognitive function. Disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are seen as the result of progressive damage done to neurons by free radicals. This makes the vitamin useful for preventing these neurodegenerative diseases that exhibit their presence through cognitive decline.

The benefit for mental function was shown in a randomized, placebo controlled study involving 241 Alzheimer’s patients. The researchers found that concurrent use of vitamin E and selegiline, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, for a period of two years significantly slowed decline in cognitive capability. The treatment also reduced need for being under close supervision, compared to placebo. But the use of only the vitamin led to further deterioration.

It was found in another three-year study that intake of foods or supplements containing the compounds resulted in lower cognitive decline. This focused on free-living, elderly subjects with ages between 65 and 102 years.

PMS symptom control

Vitamin E is helpful for maintaining hormonal balance. Without this balance, a variety of issues result. Among the problems that can arise from hormonal imbalance is premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This brings about undesirable physical and emotional changes in women, including breast tenderness, cramping and mood swings.

Adequate intake of vitamin E can help to manage these PMS symptoms and others. You can use it to lower the degree and duration of pain that comes with the condition. It helps to regulate menstrual cycle and reduce blood loss during menstruation.

Strength and endurance boost

Bodybuilders and athletes can benefit from including vitamin E in their fitness regimen. It helps to control the effect of oxidative stress on muscles following workouts while also enhancing muscle strength.

The vitamin can help you to work out longer. By enhancing blood flow, it aids in keeping you from tiring out easily. The compounds strengthen capillary walls and ensure nourishment get to cells for efficient functioning.

Heart shield

You may be doing your heart a favor by ensuring adequate amounts of vitamin E. The compounds help to regulate the amount of cholesterol in the body. As you may be aware, excessive build up of this substance, especially low density lipoprotein (LDL), is a major factor in cardiovascular disease.

The antioxidant helps to fight oxidation of LDL, which is more popularly known as bad cholesterol. It interferes with the activity of the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase that facilitates cholesterol synthesis. Tocotrienols, in particular, are believed to be beneficial for this purpose.

Cholesterol buildup leads to atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, which can end in early death. Optimal amounts of vitamin E help to prevent these unpleasant outcomes. The compounds guard against formation of blood clots that can give rise to venous thromboembolism or heart attack. They prevent adhesion of cells.

However, findings on efficacy of vitamin E for preventing heart disease are mixed. While some found it beneficial, others failed to observe any significant improvement. This means there is inconclusive evidence that the vitamin may lower your risk of heart disease.

In one of the studies that showed positive effects, researchers observed more than 5,100 Finnish subjects for an average of 14 years. They noticed reduced rate of mortality from coronary heart disease among participants with higher intakes. In another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, up to 40 percent reduction in heart disease incidence was observed among women with highest vitamin E intakes.

The Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) study involving nearly 10,000 subjects at great risk of stroke or heart attack, however, found no benefits from daily dosage of 400 IU, compared to use of placebo. In fact, the researchers observed greater risk of heart failure and need for hospitalization from taking the vitamin by these patients.

Cancer prevention and treatment

With its antioxidant properties, vitamin E may offer protection against cancers. Antioxidants guard against free radical damage to cells which can lead to this awful condition. The boost in immune response that you get provides further protection.

You will also find the vitamin beneficial for this purpose due to how it neutralizes nitrites. These preservatives used in foods contributes to the formation of nitrosamines that cause cancer to develop.

But, as is the case with heart disease, there is no consensus in research that vitamin E can help fight cancer. Still Vitamin E is prescribed for Peyronie’s disease where non cancerous lumps occur in the penis.  In the Women’s Health Study, researchers evaluated the effects of use of 600IU dose every other day on healthy women, aged 45 years or older, for a period of 10 years. The vitamin did not reduce risk of developing cancer, compared to placebo.

Researchers in another study of more than 29,000 male smokers, however, found that vitamin E reduced risk of prostate cancer. Random daily administration of 50 IU of synthetic vitamin E for a period of 5-8 years led to 32 percent reduction in the incidence of prostate cancer, compared to placebo.

Also, the American Cancer Society examined the effect of vitamin E on bladder cancer mortality in a study lasting about 16 years. The research involved nearly a million adults. It was found that those who took the vitamin for at least 10 years were less likely to die from bladder cancer.

So, while there may be no conclusive evidence that vitamin E can prevent cancer, it does seem that it may not hurt giving it a try. At least, you can enjoy the other benefits. It may help to control the side effects of cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy.

Recommended Dosage Of Vitamin E

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) of the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) provide guidance on daily intakes of vitamin E as well as other nutrients. These are also in line with those the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends. The following are the daily recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) or Adequate intakes (AIs), as apply for infants, according to age and gender:


  • 0-6 months: 4 mg or 6 IU
  • 7-12 months: 5 mg or 7.5 IU


  • 1-3 years: 6 mg or 9 IU
  • 4-8 years: 7 mg or 10.4 IU
  • 9-13 years: 11 mg or 16.4 IU


  • 14 years or older: 15 mg or 22.4 IU


  • 14 years or older: 15 mg or 22.4 IU
  • Breastfeeding: 19 mg or 28.5 IU

There are tolerable upper intake levels. These are the highest amounts that are not likely to cause side effects. But this is when you are trying to correct a deficiency, not when you have healthy levels. The following are these highest daily intakes:

  • 1-3 years: 200 mg or 300 IU
  • 4-8 years: 300 mg or 450 IU
  • 9-13 years: 600 mg or 900 IU
  • 14-18 years: 800 mg or 1,200 IU
  • 19 years and older: 1,000 mg or 1,500 IU

We need to emphasize again that it only appears safe to use up to tolerable upper intake levels when having a deficiency. This is because research shows that daily intake of 400 IU increases all-cause mortality.

How to Get Vitamin E

While you do not require high amount of vitamin E to meet your daily need, many people have low levels. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found in its surveys that most Americans did not get enough vitamin E from their diets. So, how do you go about improving levels?

The first and most important step, of course, is to ensure you are eating foods that contain vitamin E. There are many to choose from. These are all from plant sources.

As we noted earlier, the form present in highest amount (up to 80 percent) in diet of an average American is gamma-tocopherol. Corn, soybean, sesame seed, canola, and several other vegetable oils are major sources.

The most biologically active form of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, are available in high amount in seeds, nuts and vegetable oils. Wheat germ oil is particularly rich in this compound, offering around 150 milligrams per 100 grams. Other great sources of vitamin E include:

  • Almond oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Olive oil

You can also get vitamin E from green, leafy vegetables and fruits, although in lower amounts. Good examples of these include:

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Kiwifruit
  • Asparagus
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Mangoes
  • Avocadoes

Note that the foods listed are mainly those offering vitamin E in tocopherol forms. Tocotrienols are less common in an average diet. Yet, they are beneficial for preventing chronic diseases, including metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Foods that can provide you with tocotrienols include:

  • Palm oil
  • Rice bran oil
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • Cereal grains, such as barley, oat and rye
  • Grapefruit seed oil

The seed of the tropical tree annatto is thought to offer very high amounts of these vitamin E forms. The bulk of these compounds is made up of delta-tocotrienol.

Vitamin E is available in supplement form, either singly or together with other nutrients. Majority of these typically offers only alpha-tocopherol. But there are also offerings that come with other tocopherol forms and even tocotrienols. It is important to note the risk of overdose is higher with the use of supplements.

Risks and Interactions

Hypervitaminosis E is what results from the use of vitamin E in high doses. Toxic dose can make the compounds turn to anticoagulants of sort. This increases risk of bleeding. The risk becomes higher when having a bleeding disorder or using a blood thinner, such as warfarin.

The vitamin inhibits platelet aggregation and increases the risk of a condition known as hemorrhagic stroke. It was found in a clinical trial involving Finnish male smokers that daily use of 50mg vitamin E for an average of six years made the subjects more likely to suffer hemorrhagic stroke. Similar conclusion was reached in another trial involving a large number of male American doctors.

Also, among the possible adverse effects of vitamin are:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Rashes
  • Stomach cramps

High amounts of vitamin E may cause a decline in the levels of vitamin K. The compounds also appear to lose their antioxidant effects at high doses. They instead promote oxidation, with damaging effects on cells. This increases risk of cancer and death.

There is evidence that high doses – 400 IU or more a day – can worsen heart disease and diabetes. Congenital heart defects are thought possible when used in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Vitamin E may also inhibit efficient healing when you use it before or after angioplasty.

Many doctors do not recommend use during radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Antioxidants could reduce the efficacy of these treatments by inhibiting oxidative damage in cancerous cells.

Vitamin E can help a great deal in helping you enjoy great health. The fat soluble compounds contribute to health by promoting enzymatic activities and proper functioning of organs. It is best to get the vitamin from your diet. That way, you are less likely to get levels too high. Be sure to discuss with your doctor if considering supplement use.



  1. Isolation of a vitamin E analog from a green barley leaf extract that stimulates release of prolactin and growth hormone from rat anterior pituitary cells in vitro (
  2. Vitamin E — Health Professional Fact Sheet (
  3. Vitamin E – Wikipedia (
  4. Vitamin E Benefits, Vitamin E Foods & Vitamin E Side Effects – Dr. Axe (
  5. HGH and diet | Vitamins, Minerals, Cellulose, Water (
  6. All About Vitamin E: Benefits, RDA, and More (










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