Vitamin E: Benefits, sources & more

Recent studies show vitamin E has the power to treat everything from cardiovascular disease to eye infections. And, for cosmetic junkies, its antioxidant properties may have the ability to repair sun-damaged skin. Vitamin E is an important and often underrated nutrient that’s essential to your health. Read on to learn more.

The importance of vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient (your body’s fat soaks it up) that helps protect your cells from free radical damage, which is associated with cancer and other health conditions. Many scientists believe it may help prevent or delay the onset of dozens of chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease (click for more on heart health), cancer, bladder infections and cataracts. It’s also believed the vitamin can help protect skin from UV damage.

Signs of a vitamin E deficiency

There are several signs indicating you may be running low on vitamin E, including:

  • Pain, tingling or loss of sensation in your hands or feet
  • Development of digestive issues like malabsorption
  • Problems with your gallbladder, liver or pancreas

Some research suggests skin problems (like dryness or sensitivity to light) may also be a sign of a vitamin E deficiency, but most scientists agree more research needs to be done before a link can be confirmed.

Are you at risk for a vitamin E deficiency?

Vitamin E deficiencies in the US are rare. However, people who have a hard time absorbing fat from their diet are more at risk, since it is fat that absorbs vitamin E so the body can use it. Other at-risk groups include:

People on medication: Some medicines like cholesterol-lowering drugs hinder the body’s ability to absorb fat.

People with digestive diseases: People who suffer from Crohn’s or irritable bowel syndrome will have a harder time absorbing fat and vitamin E from foods. They also experience bouts of diarrhea (one of the ways the nutrient is excreted from our bodies).

People with cystic fibrosis: This disease of the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas and liver interferes with normal digestion and, therefore, absorption of nutrients as well as fats.

Premature babies: Infants who are born prematurely or with a very low birth weight may have a harder time absorbing vitamin E and fat from their diets. (This situation usually improves over time and with medical treatment.)

Recommended daily dose for vitamin E

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E varies by sex and age group.

Children (ages 0-4 months): 4 mg per day
Children (ages 7-12 months): 5 mg per day
Children (ages 1-3): 6 mg per day
Children (ages 4-8): 7 mg per day
Children (ages 9-13): 11 mg per day
Adults (ages 14 and older): 15 mg per day
Pregnant females: 15 mg per day
Lactating females: 19 mg per day

Vitamin E toxicity is very rare and only really occurs in people taking vitamin E supplements. As a result, a Tolerable Upper Intake Level has been set for the nutrient at 1,000 milligrams a day. Before you take more than the recommended amount of vitamin E, talk to your doctor.

Food sources for vitamin E

Oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals are the most common food sources of vitamin E.

Some healthy options include:

Wheat germ oil, 1 tbsp = 20.3 mg
Sunflower seeds, dry roasted, 1/4 cup = 18.1 mg
Almonds, dry roasted, 1/4 cup = 8.97 mg
Olives, 1 cup = 4.03 mg
Peanut butter, smooth, 2 tbsp = 4.2 mg
Spinach, boiled, 1 cup = 1.72 mg
Kiwi, medium, 1 = 0.85 mg
Broccoli, steamed, 1 cup = 0.75 mg

How to get more vitamin E in your diet

Here are some quick and easy ways to get more vitamin E in your diet.

1. Eat more healthy fats. Unsaturated fat sources, such as sesame, flax, and olive oils as well as nuts are full of healthy vitamin E rich fats.

2. Store your foods properly. Vitamin E is very sensitive to oxygen so it’s best to store your vitamin E-rich foods in sealed, capped and sturdy containers.

3. Eat unprocessed foods. Processed foods have 50 to 90 percent less vitamin E than unprocessed ones.

4. Get enough vitamin C and zinc in your diet. Vitamin C and zinc help boost your body’s ability to absorb and use vitamin E.

More on vitamin E

Watch your vitamin E intake during pregnancy
Foods that fight cancer
The Anti-inflammatory Diet