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Vitamin E

Vitamin E is key for strong immunity and healthy skin and eyes. In recent years, vitamin E supplements have become popular as antioxidants. These are substances that protect cells from damage. However, the risks and benefits of taking vitamin E supplements are still unclear.

Why do people take vitamin E?

Many people use vitamin E supplements in the hopes that the vitamin's antioxidant properties will prevent or treat disease. But studies of vitamin E for preventing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cataracts, and many other conditions have been inconclusive.

So far, the only established benefits of vitamin E supplements are in people who have an actual deficiency. Vitamin E deficiencies are rare. They're more likely in people who have diseases, such as digestive problems and cystic fibrosis. People on very low-fat diets may also have low levels of vitamin E.

How much vitamin E should you take?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) includes the vitamin E you get from both the food you eat and any supplements you take.

Category

Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol): Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)

in milligrams (mg) and International Units (IU)

CHILDREN

1-3 years

6 mg/day (9 IU)

4-8 years

7 mg/day (10.4 IU)

9-13 years

11 mg/day (16.4 IU)

FEMALES

14 years and up

15 mg/day (22.4 IU)

Pregnant

15 mg/day (22.4 IU)

Breastfeeding

19 mg/day (28.5 IU)

MALES

14 years and up

15 mg/day (22.4 IU)

The tolerable upper intake levels of a supplement are the highest amount that most people can take safely. Higher doses might be used to treat vitamin E deficiencies. But you should never take more unless a doctor says so.

Category

(Children & Adults)

Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL) of

Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)

in milligrams (mg) and International Units (IU)

1-3 years

200 mg/day (300 IU)

4-8 years

300 mg/day (450 IU)

9-13 years

600 mg/day (900 IU)

14-18 years

800 mg/day (1,200 IU)

19 years and up

1,000 mg/day (1,500 IU)

Because vitamin E is fat-soluble, supplements are best absorbed with food.

Continued

Can you get vitamin E naturally from foods?

Most people get enough vitamin E from food. Good sources of vitamin E include:

  • Vegetable oils
  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach
  • Fortified cereals and other foods
  • Eggs
  • Nuts

What are the risks of taking vitamin E?

The risks and benefits of taking vitamin E are still unclear. Long-term use (over 10 years) of vitamin E has been linked to an increase in stroke.

In addition, an analysis of clinical trials found patients who took either synthetic vitamin E or natural vitamin E in doses of 400 IU per day -- or higher -- had an increased risk of dying from all causes, which seems to increase even more at higher doses. Cardiovascular studies also suggest that patients with diabetes or cardiovascular disease who take natural vitamin E at 400 IU per day have an increased risk of heart failure and heart failure-related hospitalization.

Vitamin E supplements might be harmful when taken in early pregnancy. One study found that women who took vitamin E supplementation during the first 8 weeks of pregnancy had a 1.7 to nine-fold increase in congenital heart defects. The exact amount of vitamin E supplements used by pregnant women in this study is unknown.

A large population study showed that men using a multivitamin more than seven times per week in conjunction with a separate vitamin E supplement actually had a significantly increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

The American Heart Association recommends obtaining antioxidants, including vitamin E, by eating a well-balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rather than from supplements. If you are considering taking a vitamin E supplement, talk to your health care provider first to see if it is right for you.

What are the side effects of taking vitamin E?

Topical vitamin E can irritate the skin.

Overdoses of vitamin E supplements can cause nausea, headache, bleeding, fatigue, and other symptoms.

People who take blood thinners or other medicines should not take vitamin E supplements without first talking to their health care provider.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on May 01, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Longe, J., ed. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, second edition, 2004.

Natural Standard Patient Monograph: "Vitamin E."

Office of Dietary Supplement: "Vitamin E."

Tribble, D.L. Circulation, February 1999.

Miller, E.R. III Annals of Internal Medicine, 2005.

Lonn, E. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2005.

Hayden, K.M. The American Journal of Medicine, 2007.

Smedts, H.P. BJOG, 2009.

Lawson, K.A. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2007.

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