What are the health benefits of vitamin E?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Recent evidence indicates vitamin E is associated with a decreased risk of lung and prostate cancer and perhaps other cancers as well. In two recently completed randomized studies, vitamin E decreased the progression of Alzheimer's disease and the development of Parkinson's disease. We do not know if these effects are due to its antioxidant properties or to other mechanisms, or whether this benefit also requires that vitamins and minerals be taken at the same time. Further studies still need to be done, but the evidence appears promising. Vitamin E may also help the body build muscle strength. In addition, vitamin E has been shown to help prevent cataracts, and preliminary studies suggest it might help prevent macular degeneration, a kind of blindness that can occur with aging.
Vitamin E has health benefits because it is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from oxidative damage. Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E. Evidence suggests that a healthy diet rich in the right nutrients is good for your brain, and higher levels of vitamin E are associated with delayed age-related brain decline.

You can find vitamin E in sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and Brazil nuts, as well as in nut butters and tahini. As a bonus, consumption of some nuts has been linked to better weight control and feelings of fullness among dieters.
Howard S. Smith
Pain Medicine
Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin that stores in the body, may influence many different types of pain, according to preliminary research. For instance, some studies show that foods high in vitamin E can reduce PMS-related breast tenderness, nervousness, depression, headache, fatigue, and insomnia. While vitamin E won’t replace nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or topical moist heat, experts did believe there was a positive pain-reducing effect. For women with fibrocystic breast changes, studies confirm that patients reported relief from breast pain after ingesting vitamin E.

Vitamin E also fights arthritis-like damage -- in mice. French scientists discovered that vitamin E reduces joint destruction in mice with a rheumatoid-like arthritis. In humans, experts believe the rheumatoid arthritis patients have low blood levels of antioxidants, such as vitamin E and C, which are necessary to fight the destructive effects of free radicals, potentially damaging by-products of the body's metabolism. Investigators found that after six weeks of vitamin E treatment, the arthritic mice had less severe bone and cartilage destruction than that in animals that did not receive vitamin E. Of course, more studies are needed to see if this works in humans -- but it does show the possible value of nutrients in keeping us disease- and pain-free.

The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is 30 International Units (IU). The health risk of too much vitamin E supplementation is low, although there are few studies on long-term supplementation. The Institute of Medicine has set the upper tolerable limit for vitamin E supplementation at 1,500 International Units (1,000 milligrams), as bleeding may occur at higher levels. 
More research is needed to confirm the benefit in humans, but scientists think vitamin E may somehow turn on a gene that sweeps out the bad things created by strokes -- like toxin-triggering enzymes that kill neurons. And while we're waiting for more definite research in people, know that E vitamins -- a family of antioxidants -- are good for the heart, too, because of their LDL-cutting powers (that's the bad kind of cholesterol). And E vitamins may even have cancer- and infection-busting properties.
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin and is sometimes referred to as a vitamin in need of a disease to cure. For almost 40 years after its discovery, scientists searched unsuccessfully for a curative role for vitamin E. They now have shifted their focus and begun valuing the vitamin’s importance as an effective antioxidant.

Vitamin E’s nutritional claim to fame is its role as a powerful antioxidant. This role is extremely important in protecting cell membranes and preventing oxidation of the “bad” LDL cholesterol carrier.

Phospholipids (lipids that contain phosphorus and two fatty acids) are critical components of cell membranes. Many phospholipids contain unsaturated fatty acids, which are vulnerable to the damaging effects of free radicals. As an antioxidant, vitamin E neutralizes free radicals before they can harm cell membranes.

There isn’t any known risk of consuming too much vitamin E from natural food sources. However, overconsumption of the synthetic form that is found in supplements and/or fortified foods could pose risks.

Good sources of vitamin E include:
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Wheat germ
  • Sunflower seed kernels
  • Almonds
  • Olive oil
  • Corn oil
Picture of peanuts & sunflower seeds

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.