Comprehensive Guide To Vitamin E

Vitamin E is essential for healthy skin. In addition to healthy skin, it is commonly used in skincare products such as anti-ageing products and for treating acne.

What Is Vitamin E

Vitamin E, also known as alpha-tocopherol, is a group of 2 fat-soluble vitamins consisting of 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols, both of which occur in alpha, beta, gamma and delta form. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, as such it is vital for many functions within the body. Until recently (2009) a ninth compound, delta-tocomonoenol was found to have vitamin E properties. This substance was identified in kiwi skin.

Vitamin E supplements are extremely common among older people because of studies claiming it helps protect against age-related illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and cataracts. Although there was no proof of its effectiveness. Supplementing vitamin E may cause more harm than good.

Alpha-tocopherol is the main source of vitamin E in the Europian diet, whereas gamma-tocopherol is the main source in American diets.

Alpha-tocopherol is the most active form of natural vitamin E. Sources of this compound include vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, fortified foods and leafy greens. This is the most commonly found form in supplements.

Gamma-tocopherol on the other hand is less known but deserves more attention than it gets. Research has found gamma-tocopherol may be more beneficial than the alpha form. Gamma-tocopherol has found to be more effective than alpha-tocopherol in preventing prostate cancer, reducing oxidative genetic damage, increasing superoxide dismutase activity and scavenging peroxynitrite. (1)

Sources of gamma-tocopherol include walnuts, sesame seeds, pecans, pistachios, flaxseed and pumpkin seeds.

Vitamin E as an antioxidant protects cell membranes, nerve sheaths, cholesterol molecules and dietary fat as well as body fat from oxidation. Oxidation is linked to cancer, cataracts, arthritis and heart disease. Therefore vitamin E can help shield you against these illnesses.

It is important to note that the more polyunsaturated fat (a type of healthy fat) the more vitamin E you need to consume.

Furthermore, vitamin E can relieve muscle cramps and boost immunity.

History Of Vitamin E

Vitamin E was discovered in 1922 by Herbert McLean Evans and Katherine Scott Bishop. The vitamin was identified as an essential dietary fertility factor in rats. It was given the name tocopherol, by a British man named George Miller Calhoun. It was found to be vital for birth in rats by preventing fetal resorption in pregnant rats.

It was first isolated in 1935 by Evans and Gladys Anderson Emerson. 3 years later in 1938, it was synthesized for the first time by Paul Karrer.

The animal experiments had shown that vitamin E is required for pregnancy, but no benefits were found in women prone to miscarriage.

In the 1940s it was discovered that vitamin E protects unsaturated fatty acids from oxidation. Further benefits of vitamin E were discovered in infant health. It was used for the prevention of hemolysis, retrolental fibroplasia, intracranial haemorrhage and pulmonary oxygen toxicity.

Herbert McLean Evans,1927

Gladys Anderson Emerson, 1950s
Katherine Scott Bishop

Paul Karrer

Vitamin E & Infant Health

Vitamin E supplementation with preterm infants for the prevention of morbidity and mortality is a very confusing topic. Vitamin E supplementation may provide some benefits, while also increasing the risk of fatal infections. Preterm babies are susceptible to a range of problems because their organs aren't mature. Vitamin E can help prevent these problems, but can also have harmful effects too.

Studies on vitamin E supplementation found that extra vitamin E reduces the risk of some problems such as diseases of the retina, but also increases the risk of fatal infections. (2)

Benefits of vitamin E supplementation in preterm infants may include:

• Reduced risk of intracranial haemorrhage.

• Reduced risk of retinopathy and blindness

• Reduced risk of hemolytic anaemia

• Reduced risk of chronic lung disease

Risks of vitamin E supplementation in preterm infants may include:

• Increased risk of sepsis

• Increased risk of brain haemorrhaging (when supplemented intravenously)

The NHS announced in April 2009 that as little as 75% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E "while pregnant can lead to a nine-fold increase the risk of a heart problem at birth". (3)

However, the NHS recommends pregnant women to not be overly concerned about vitamin E intake and continue eating a healthy, balanced diet. But consider avoiding supplementing vitamin E.

Benefits Of Vitamin E

Glucose Control & Diabetes

Vitamin E may improve glucose balance. Low dietary intake of vitamin E has been linked to an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Double-blind studies have found that vitamin E improves glucose tolerance in those with Type 2 diabetes. (4)

Coronary heart Disease

Vitamin E protects circulating fatty acids from oxidation, reduces platelet clumping and has blood thinning and anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore it may reduce the progression of atherosclerosis.

Large scale trials show a 40% risk reduction of coronary heart disease in men and women taking vitamin E supplements - with the lowest risk in those taking 67mg every day for 2 years.

Widespread notice of the benefit of vitamin E on coronary heart disease following the results of the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study in 1996. Just over 2,000 individuals with CHD were divided into 2 groups, with one taking vitamin E supplements and the other taking a placebo for 18 months. The study found taking high doses of vitamin E (at least 268mg) reduced the risk of heart attack by up to 77%.


Statin drugs lower the levels of vitamin E in the blood by as much as 17%. As a result, LDL-cholesterol is more susceptible to oxidative damage. If you are taking statins, it is worth supplementing vitamin E and co-enzyme Q10.

Brain Function

Vitamin E protects brain cells against oxidation, therefore high levels of vitamin E are strongly linked to better cognitive function compared to those with low vitamin E intake.


An analysis of 640 individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee found that high intakes of vitamin E reduced the risk of the disease developing in males. Another study on 56 individuals with osteoarthritis reported that taking 400mg of vitamin E in the form of d-alpha-tocopherol each day for 6 weeks reduced pain and eliminated the need for painkillers, compared with those not taking vitamin E supplements.


People with high dietary intakes of vitamin E have a reduced risk of developing severe cataracts compared to those with a lower intake. A study involving 1,380 individuals found that daily use of multivitamin and antioxidant supplements decreased the risk of developing cataracts by 37% over a long period of time, with other nutrients playing a role too.


Vitamin E deficiency has harmful effects on the nervous systems and can cause symptoms such as:

• Lack of energy

• Lethargy

• Unable to concentrate

• Irritability

• Muscle weakness

• Poor co-ordination

Severe long-term deficiency can cause symptoms such as:

• Blindness

• Dementia

• Abnormal heartbeat

Vitamin E Dosage

Vitamin E is sometimes expressed in International units (IU) rather than milligrams (mg).

Converting mg to IU:

1mg of natural alpha-tocopherol is equivalent to 1.49 IU or 2.22 IU in synthetic form.

Converting IU to mg:

1 IU of natural alpha-tocopherol is equivalent to 0.67mg.

1 IU of synthetic alpha-tocopherol is equivalent to 0.45mg.

Recommended Daily Allowance (Alpha-Tocopherol)

0-6 months: 4mg

7-12 months: 5mg

1-3 years: 6mg

4-8 years: 7mg

9-13 years: 11mg

14+ years: 15mg

Pregnancy: 15mg

Breastfeeding: 19mg

High doses of vitamin E are best taken with other antioxidants such as vitamin C, carotenoids and selenium. Particularly vitamin C because it regenerates vitamin E after it has acted as an antioxidant.

The upper safe limit for long-term use from supplements is suggested as 540mg (800 IU).

Vitamin E Overdose

Toxic side effects occur above doses of 3,000mg daily, symptoms may include:

• Headache

• Fatigue

• Gastrointestinal discomfort

• Double vision

• Muscle weakness

Sources Of Vitamin E

Wheat germ oil, 1 Tbsp: 20.3mg (135% RDA)

Sunflower seeds, dry roasted, 28g: 7.4mg (49% RDA)

Almonds, dry roasted, 28g: 6.8mg (45% RDA)

Sunflower oil, 1 Tbsp: 5.6mg (37% RDA)

Safflower oil, 1Tbsp: 4.6mg (31% RDA)

Hazelnut, dry roasted, 28g: 4.3mg (29%)

Peanut butter, 2 Tbsp: 2.9mg (19% RDA)

Peanuts, dry roasted, 28g: 2.2mg (15% RDA)

Corn oil, 1Tbsp: 1.9mg (13% RDA)

Spinach, boiled, 1/2 cup: 1.9mg (13% RDA)

Should You Supplement Vitamin E?

For the majority of people, supplements are unnecessary if a healthy balanced diet is consumed, therefore it is unlikely to have any benefit.

If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor or GP before taking any vitamin E supplement. It is advised not to take vitamin E when pregnant, as advised by the NHS.

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