Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and helps to protect our bodies from cell damage. We know that having a diet rich in vitamin E provides many health benefits, but supplements are unlikely to have a similar positive effect. Vegans can easily meet their needs through diet by including a few servings of nuts and seeds.
What is vitamin E and why do I need it?
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant in the body. It helps to boost the immune system and widen blood vessels to avoid clotting. Most importantly, it helps to protect our cells from oxidative damage, which naturally occurs during the metabolic process.
Antioxidants are responsible for countering the free radicals caused by oxidative stress. Offsetting this balance between free radicals and antioxidants can lead our bodies to experience inflammation. This can further lead to conditions such as cancer and heart disease . For this reason, a diet high in antioxidants is important for our health and disease prevention.
Vitamin E is naturally occurring in some foods and exists in 8 different chemical forms called alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol. Research shows that the free radicals that arise from oxidative damage can be countered by the alpha- (or α-) tocopherol form.
Vitamin E can also be synthetically created for use in fortified foods and supplements, which is about half as bioavailable as the natural form.
How much vitamin E do I need?
The guideline from the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is for women over the age of 14 to get a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 15 milligrams (mg) of vitamin E . The RDA is the same during pregnancy. For those who are breastfeeding, the amount needed goes up to 19 mg .
Food labels commonly list amounts in International Units (IU), but in 2020, these will have to be shown in milligrams . The RDA equivalents in alpha-tocopherol form are:
- Women over the age of 14: 15 mg = 22.4 IU per day
- During pregnancy: 15 mg = 22.4 IU per day
- While breastfeeding: 19 mg = 28.4 IU A per day
You cannot consume too much vitamin E from food. However, there is an established Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for all forms of supplemental alpha-tocopherol. For women ages 14-18, the UL is 800 mg. For women over 19, the UL is 1,000 mg .
Can I get enough vitamin E from my diet?
Yes, you can, and should, get your needs met through a varied, plant-based diet. Nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils contain the highest amounts of α-tocopherol. Here’s a list of some of the highest vitamin E contents in common foods :
- Wheatgerm oil: 20.3 mg per tablespoon
- Sunflower oil: 5.6 mg per tablespoon
- Safflower oil: 4.6 mg per tablespoon
- Sunflower seeds: 3 mg per tablespoon
- Almonds: 2.5 mg per tablespoon
- Peanut butter: 1.5 mg per tablespoon
- Hazelnuts: 1 mg per tablespoon
By including a handful of nuts and seeds in your diet, you can easily meet your daily needs. Other foods such as broccoli and spinach also provide a good source of alpha-tocopherol. Oils from soybean, canola, and corn are high in gamma-tocopherol, a different form of vitamin E.
In the United States, an overt deficiency of vitamin E is very rare. However, studies show that 60% of the population has a total intake of vitamin E below the RDA amounts . This indicates that we are not malnourished in terms of vitamin E intake, but increasing our consumption may be beneficial.
Should I supplement with vitamin E?
Vitamin E serves a lot of purposes in our bodies but those benefits appear to come from food and not supplements.
Many studies state that the evidence is not conclusive on the benefits of supplementing vitamin E for improved health outcomes during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia [5, 6, 7]. Also, studies established that a high dose of vitamin E in the
It is worth noting that most studies are conducted with doses well above the RDA value (100 IU or more) of the α-tocopherol form of vitamin E. Several comprehensive reviews found that supplementing with vitamin E decreased lifespans in healthy individuals [10, 11]. This is a common finding for many nutrients when they are analyzed as stand-alone supplements, such as vitamin A.
Research and analysis on this topic will continue. Currently, there are no conclusive findings to support supplementing with vitamin E for reducing oxidative stress and improving health outcomes in pregnancy. Further studies will help in showing if lower doses of α-tocopherol or different forms can be effective.
- Vitamin E serves as an antioxidant in the body and reduces oxidative damage in our cells.
- More than half of the population is getting less than the recommended amount and the most effective way to increase intake is through food, not supplements.
- Vitamin E is high in foods such as sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts.