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Vitamins & minerals health centre

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is important for protecting cell membranes.

Vitamin E supplements have become popular as antioxidants, substances that studies suggest may help protect cells from damage. The British Dietetic Association says some phytochemicals such as flavonoids, glucosinolate and phyto-oestrogens “act as antioxidants, which may reduce damage to cell DNA and cell membranes. However, whether there are clear benefits of antioxidants remains unclear.

Vitamin E uses

Many people use vitamin E supplements with the hope that the vitamin’s antioxidant properties will prevent or treat disease. Early laboratory studies of vitamin E supplements were promising, but studies of vitamin E in people have been disappointing. Studies of vitamin E for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts and many other conditions have been inconclusive and more research is needed.

So far, the only established benefits of vitamin E supplements are in people who have an actual deficiency. However, 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.

Vitamin E dose and instructions for use

The NHS says the amount of vitamin E you need is:

  • 4mg a day for men
  • 3mg a day for women

The tolerable upper safe 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 to do so.

For adults the upper safe level for vitamin E is 540mg/day.

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

Vitamin E food sources

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

  • Vegetable oils, such as olive and soya
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
  • Fortified cereals and other foods
  • Eggs
  • Nuts

 

Vitamin E supplement information

Vitamin E is available in tablets, capsules and liquids. It’s standard in multivitamins. Vitamin E is also sold as a topical ointment. Like any supplement, keep vitamin E supplements in a cool, dry place, away from humidity and direct sunlight.

There are eight different types of vitamin E. Alpha-tocopherol is the most common. It’s also the most active form.

Vitamin E warnings

  • Side effects. Topical vitamin E can irritate the skin. Overdoses of vitamin E supplements can cause nausea, headache, bleeding, fatigue and other symptoms.   
  • Interactions. People who take blood thinners should not take vitamin E supplements without talking to their doctor first. If you take any medication, it’s best to check with your doctor to make sure vitamin E supplements won’t interfere.
  • Risks. Vitamin E supplements have unclear benefits and risks, so don’t use them in high doses or for the long term unless your doctor suggests it.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 12, 2013

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