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
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.