January 9, 2024/Nutrition

Top 5 Benefits of Vitamin E

Easy to get from healthy foods, vitamin E can help protect your eyes, boost your immune system and may lower your risk of cancer

Assorted foods and oils containting vitamin E

You’ve probably seen “vitamin E” plastered on products up and down the skin care aisle. But this nutrient isn’t just a beauty cabinet staple. You need to consume vitamin E, too. It’s essential for good health and many body functions.

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Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, explains the benefits of vitamin E and how to get enough of it in a healthy way.

What is vitamin E?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning your body absorbs and transports it like dietary fats. It’s also an antioxidant, a compound that fights free radicals, which raise your risk of getting certain diseases, but antioxidants clean up their damage.

But despite what you see on nutrition labels, vitamin E isn’t a single vitamin. This nutrient actually comes in eight different forms:

  • Alpha-tocopherol.
  • Beta-tocopherol.
  • Delta-tocopherol.
  • Gamma-tocopherol.
  • Alpha- tocotrienol.
  • Beta-tocotrienol.
  • Delta-tocotrienol.
  • Gamma-tocotrienol.

Alpha-tocopherol is the most common type and is found in the highest quantities in your body’s tissues and liver. But that doesn’t mean other types are less valuable. Each form of vitamin E has its own unique antioxidant abilities — and food sources often contain a mix of two or more types of vitamin E.

What does vitamin E do?

So, what are the benefits of this fat-soluble, free radical-fighting friend? Studies show that eating a variety of whole foods that contain vitamin E may help in several ways.

1. Lowers your risk of cancer

As an antioxidant, vitamin E helps ward off cancer-causing cell damage. Some evidence shows that low levels of vitamin E and selenium may raise your risk of breast and lung cancer.

But don’t go out and purchase a vitamin E supplement in hopes of kicking cancer to the curb. “Vitamin E supplements have not been shown to prevent cancer,” clarifies Zumpano. “If you want to lower your risk of cancer, eat a variety of whole foods rich in vitamin E. Many foods contain several forms of vitamin E and other antioxidants that work together to slash your cancer risk.”

2. Keeps your eyes healthy

Vitamin E has a protective effect on the cells in your eyes. And getting enough of this nutrient could lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.

“Just like the rest of your body, your eyes need a variety of vitamins and nutrients to function at their best,” says Zumpano. “If you’re deficient in vitamin E, you may have a higher risk of certain eye conditions.”

Most people can get enough vitamin E through the foods they eat. But if you have AMD, your eye care provider may recommend vitamins for eye health, which usually include vitamin E and several other nutrients.

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3. Boosts your immune system

You need a healthy immune system to fight off illnesses, from colds and flu to cancer. And vitamin E plays a vital role in your immune health.

Studies have shown that vitamin E is found in high amounts in certain immune cells,” says Zumpano. “And a deficiency in this vitamin prevents your immune system from doing its job well.”

Fortunately, deficiency is rare in the U.S. So, you likely don’t need a supplement unless your provider recommends one. “People who have conditions that interfere with fat absorption can sometimes be deficient in vitamin E,” notes Zumpano. “Talk to your provider about a supplement if you have a condition that affects your intestines, like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.”

4. Reduces your risk of blood clots

Vitamin E may help prevent blood clots that could cause heart attacks. But don’t start popping vitamin E in place of blood thinners or other medications.

“We don’t have studies that confirm vitamin E supplements are a safe way to lower your risk of clots,” cautions Zumpano. “Get your vitamin E through heart-healthy foods to lower your risk of heart problems. And see your provider regularly to discuss your risk of heart disease.”

5. Brightens your skin

There’s a reason you see vitamin E listed on moisturizers, sunscreens and other skin care products. This vitamin is found in our natural sebum (skin oil) and defends your skin cells from damage.

Topical vitamin E moisturizes dry skin, but we also need this vitamin in the foods we eat. “Vitamin E works internally and externally to help your skin look its best,” says Zumpano. “We don’t have any evidence that taking a vitamin E supplement will improve your skin, though. If you eat a variety of whole foods, you’re likely already getting the vitamin E your skin needs.”

How much vitamin E do I need?

Your recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, of vitamin E is:

Age
Birth to 6 months*
RDA (milligrams)
4 mg
Infants 7–12 months*
RDA (milligrams)
5 mg
Children 1–3 years
RDA (milligrams)
5 mg
Children 4–8 years
RDA (milligrams)
7 mg
Children 9–13 years
RDA (milligrams)
11 mg
Ages 14+
RDA (milligrams)
15 mg
Pregnant people
RDA (milligrams)
15 mg
Breastfeeding people
RDA (milligrams)
19 mg

*Adequate Intake

Source: National Institutes of Health

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“Your daily value of vitamin E is much lower than what is in most supplements,” notes Zumpano. “It’s not hard to meet these needs through food alone.”

Is too much vitamin E bad for me?

Vitamin E has lots of health benefits, but taking high-dose supplements isn’t a good idea. Your body stores extra vitamin E in your tissues and liver. This makes overdose a possible risk.

“Unlike water-soluble vitamins like B vitamins, excess vitamin E doesn’t come out in your urine,” shares Zumpano. “If you consume large amounts of any fat-soluble vitamins through supplements, your body can’t get rid of any extra. Your levels can become too high, and you may experience vitamin toxicity or overdose.”

Side effects of too much vitamin E include bleeding in the brain, which can be life-threatening. To avoid dangerous bleeding, adults shouldn’t take more than 1,000 mg of vitamin E supplements. If your supplement lists vitamin E in international units (IU), don’t take more than:

  • 1,500 IU per day of d-alpha-tocopherol (natural vitamin E).
  • 1,100 IU per day of dl-alpha-tocopherol (synthetic vitamin E).

But don’t try to avoid vitamin E-rich foods for fear of side effects. It’s nearly impossible to get dangerously high doses through food alone.

Best sources of vitamin E

You can get your vitamin E through your diet if you regularly eat:

  • Vegetable oils: Wheat germ oil has the highest amount of vitamin E, bringing in 135% of your daily value (DV) in 1 tablespoon. But other vegetable oils, like sunflower and safflower, are also good sources of this nutrient. Corn and soybean oil contain some vitamin E, but in lower amounts than other oils.
  • Nuts: An ounce of almonds contains about 45% of your DV of vitamin E. Hazelnuts are another good source, with 29% of your DV per ounce.
  • Peanuts: Technically a legume, not a nut, peanuts and peanut butter are good sources of vitamin E. They contain about 15% to 20% of your DV per serving.
  • Green vegetables: Veggies like spinach and broccoli contain some vitamin E. While the amount is only about 5% to 8% of your DV, they’re well worth adding to your diet. Green veggies are great sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Fortified foods: Food companies add vitamin E to packaged foods like cereal and fruit juice. Look at the nutrition facts label to see which foods have vitamin E added. You might see it listed in the ingredients as “alpha-tocopherol” or “mixed tocopherols.”

Who should avoid taking vitamin E supplements?

There’s another reason to get your vitamin E from food rather than supplements. You should avoid taking vitamin E supplements if you’re taking:

  • Blood thinners: If you take an anticoagulant (blood thinner), vitamin E can increase your risk of bleeding.
  • Cancer treatments: Vitamin E may interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Cholesterol medicines: Some research has found that an antioxidant supplement that contains vitamin E can get in the way of cholesterol-lowering medications, including statins and niacin.

Bottom line?

Vitamin E is plentiful in the foods we eat. But if you have a concern about your intake, talk with a healthcare provider. They can determine if a supplement is needed and help you get the nutrients you need.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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