Vitamin E can be called several different things, including alpha-tocopherol. Natural vitamin E can be called d-alpha-tocopherol, and synthetic vitamin E can be called dl-alpha-tocopherol.
› Health benefits
Scientists are studying vitamin E’s effects on health.
Some studies have linked higher intakes of the vitamin from supplements to a lower chance of developing heart disease, but the best research does not support this. Vitamin E supplements do not seem to prevent heart disease, reduce its severity or affect the risk of death from heart disease. Scientists are not sure if high intakes of vitamin E will protect the heart in younger, healthier people who do not have a high risk of heart disease.
Most research indicates that vitamin E does not help prevent cancer and may be harmful in certain cases. Large doses have not consistently reduced the risk of colon or breast cancer in studies. One large study found that taking vitamin E supplements for several years increased the risk of developing prostate cancer in men. Two studies following middle-aged women and men found that extra vitamin E did not protect from any sort of cancer. Another study showed a link between vitamin E usage and a lower risk of death from bladder cancer.
Macular degeneration, or loss of central vision, and cataracts are among the most common causes of vision loss in older people. The results of research involving vitamin E with these conditions have had inconsistent results.
Several studies have looked into whether vitamin E supplements may help older adults remain mentally alert and active, as well as prevent or slow the decline of mental function and Alzheimer’s disease. Research so far has shown little evidence that taking vitamin E can help healthy people or those with mild mental functioning problems to maintain brain health.
› Health risks
Vitamin E supplements may interact with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. High dosages of vitamin E may increase the risk of bleeding, including serious bleeding in the brain. Vitamin E can also increase risk of bleeding in people taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications.
› How much do I need?
The amount of vitamin E needed depends on gender and age. Those age 14+ need 22.4 IU (15 milligrams) daily; pregnant women and teens also need 22.4 IU (15 milligrams) daily. Breastfeeding women and teens need 28.4 IU (19 milligrams) daily.
(Average daily recommended intake is measured in milligrams and in international units. Package labels will list amounts in milligrams, while supplements will list amounts in IU.)
A vitamin E deficiency is rare but can occur. A deficiency is usually linked to another disease where fat is not properly digested or absorbed. Examples include Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and certain rare genetic diseases such as abetalipoproteinemia and ataxia with vitamin E deficiency.
A deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage that will result in loss of feeling in the arms and legs, loss of body movement control, muscle weakness and vision problems. Another sign of deficiency is a weakened immune system.
› In food
Vitamin E is naturally found in many foods and is added to some fortified foods, including breakfast cereals, fruit juices, margarines and spreads. Vegetable oils like wheat germ and sunflower and safflower oils are among the best sources. Foods that naturally contain the vitamin include nuts, like hazelnuts and almonds; seeds, such as sunflower seeds; and green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli.
› Dietary supplements
Vitamin E can be found in many forms and in different amounts. Most daily multivitamins or multiminerals provide about 30 IU of the vitamin, while vitamin E supplements usually contain 100 to 1,000 IU per pill, much higher than the recommended daily amount.
The natural form of vitamin E, d-alpha-tocopherol, is more potent than the synthetic form.
Please consult your health care provider before making changes to your vitamin/supplement regimen.