Vitamin E: The Antioxidant Nutrient Your Body Needs for a Healthy Immune System and Much More

Vitamin E is found in fatty foods like nuts and nut butters.
Image Credit: bhofack2/iStock/GettyImages

Vitamin E may not be as popular as its buzzier peers (ahem, vitamin D), but the nutrient is just as essential for health.

Getting vitamin E on your plate is extra important thanks to its antioxidant and immune-boosting properties.

Below, we explain everything you need to know about vitamin E, including how it functions in the body, how much you should get daily and whether a vitamin E supplement might be right for you.

What Is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins along with vitamins A, D and K.

That means the nutrient gets stored in fat tissue in the body and is also best absorbed when consumed along with a source of healthy fat (though most foods that contain vitamin E are fat-rich themselves).

Naturally present in various plant foods, vitamin E is best known for its powerful antioxidant properties. It's also involved in supporting healthy immune function, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

How Much Vitamin E Per Day Do You Need?

People's daily vitamin E needs vary based on different life stages, per the NIH.

Vitamin E Recommended Dietary Allowances

Age

Males

Females

Birth to 6 months

4 mg

4 mg

7 to 12 months

5 mg

5 mg

1 to 3 years

6 mg

6 mg

4 to 8 years

7 mg

7 mg

9 to 13 years

11 mg

11 mg

18+ years

15 mg

15 mg

Tip

Pregnant women should get 15 milligrams of vitamin E daily while breastfeeding women should aim for 19 milligrams.

Best Vitamin E Foods

When it comes to getting adequate vitamin E, go nuts (and seeds).

"Vitamin E is abundant in whole foods including almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds," says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, a San Diego-based registered dietitian and author of the Eat Clean, Stay Lean series.

"It's also found in vegetable oils like sunflower, safflower and soybean oils."

Leafy greens like spinach and broccoli as well as whole grains are also great sources of vitamin E. Just be sure to choose whole grains over refined grains, says Dr. Bazilian.

"Over 90 percent of the vitamin E in a whole grain is lost through refining and processing," she tells LIVESTRONG.com. Opt for unrefined grains like brown rice, oats or quinoa to maximize your vitamin E intake.

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Some of the top food sources of vitamin E, per the NIH, include:

  • Wheat germ oil: 20.3 mg, 135% DV in 1 tablespoon
  • Sunflower seeds: 7.4 mg, 49% DV in 1 ounce
  • Almonds: 6.8 mg, 45% DV in 1 ounce
  • Sunflower oil: 5.6 mg, 37% DV in 1 tablespoon
  • Safflower oil: 4.6 mg, 31% DV in 1 tablespoon
  • Peanut butter: 2.9 mg, 19% DV in 2 tablespoons
  • Peanuts: 2.2 mg, 15% DV in 1 ounce
  • Boiled spinach: 1.9 mg, 13% DV in ½ cup
  • Boiled broccoli: 1.2 mg, 8% DV in ½ cup

Need ideas for how to add more vitamin E to your day?

Snack on a handful of nuts or whip up this Peachy Almond Cobbler for a better-for-you treat. Other options: this Creamy Vegan Spinach side or Peanut Butter Oatmeal Muffins.

Benefits of Vitamin E

1. It's Linked to a Reduced Risk of Cognitive Decline

This antioxidant vitamin might play a role in keeping your brain sharp as you age.

In a randomized, double-blind trial of people with Alzheimer's disease, supplementing with 2000 IU every day was associated with slowing the progression of the disease, per an older April 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Getting vitamin E either from foods or supplements is associated with less cognitive decline with age, a July 2002 study in Archives of Neurology found.

What's more, a December 2014 review in Nutrients says vitamin E is linked to promoting healthy brain aging and to delaying Alzheimer's disease-related functional decline. However, more research needs to be done to fully confirm vitamin E's positive effect on brain health.

2. It Boasts Antioxidant Properties

"Vitamin E's main role is to act as an antioxidant, collecting and grabbing free radicals that can damage the body by weakening and breaking down healthy cells," says Isabel Smith, RDN, a New York City-based registered dietitian.

"Vitamin E has the ability to protect cells from free radical damage, as well as stop the production of free radical cells entirely."

Specifically, the nutrient stops the production of reactive oxygen species, or free radicals, that are formed when fat undergoes oxidation, according to the NIH.

3. It Helps Support Your Immune System

Though more research is needed, there is some evidence that suggests vitamin E boasts immune-boosting effects that may improve our resistance against infections, per a November 2018 review in the journal Nutrients.

"Vitamin E plays a role in helping maintain a vital immune system by assisting in thwarting bacterial and viral hits to the system," adds Dr. Bazilian.

All About Vitamin E Deficiency

"Vitamin E deficiency is typically fairly rare, but does still happen in specific cases," says Smith.

"Individuals with digestive disorders or do not absorb fat properly can develop a vitamin E deficiency, along with other fat-soluble vitamins." Premature, very low birthweight babies are also at risk of vitamin E deficiency, according to the NIH.

Other groups that may benefit from vitamin E supplementation include individuals at an increased risk of or diagnosed with eye conditions like age-related macular degeneration, Dr. Bazilian says.

Women with severe breast tenderness pre-period may also try vitamin E supplementation for symptom improvement, but the intervention should be assessed and approved by a health care professional, per the Mayo Clinic.

Smith says common signs of vitamin E deficiency can include:

  • Retinopathy, or damage to the retina of the eyes that can impair vision
  • Decreased immune function
  • Reduced control of bodily movements, also known as ataxia
  • Peripheral neuropathy, which consists of damage to the peripheral nerves (usually in the hands or feet) that can cause weakness or pain

What Happens if I Get Too Much Vitamin E?

While it's highly unlikely you'll take in too much vitamin E from whole foods, supplements are another story.

"In my professional opinion, supplementation with vitamin E should be selective, not universal," Dr. Bazilian says.

"For a brief time, the active encouragement of vitamin E supplements became the norm, but we now know that while it is a very important nutrient that we need to focus on in the diet, supplementation may not always be helpful and actually may put some people at increased health risk."

Indeed, research suggests high dose supplementation of the popular form of vitamin E called alpha-tocopherol could lead to blood abnormalities, including hemorrhage and diminished clotting function, according to the NIH.

Interactions and Risks

Vitamin E supplements can interact with common medications, per the NIH and a December 2014 report in Nutrition Research Reviews, including:

  • Anticoagulant and antiplatelet medications
  • Simvastatin and niacin
  • Aspirin
  • Tamoxifen
  • Cyclosporine A
  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy

While vitamin E can prevent blood clotting, that might not be good news for those on anticoagulants. That's because vitamin E supplements can work a little too well, meaning they can actually increase one's risk of bleeding to a dangerous degree.

When it comes to heart health, vitamin E supplements (which often include additional antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C) have been shown to block an increase in HDL cholesterol in adults taking statins.

Remember: HDL is the good kind of cholesterol that protects against adverse heart outcomes, so a reduction in HDL is not desirable.

Related Reading

What to Look for in a Vitamin E Supplement

It's important to give any dietary supplement careful consideration before adding it to your routine.

Ideally, supplements should be pursued in consultation with a health care professional or registered dietitian who is well-informed about supplements and educated about your health history.

Also smart: Look for supplements that are third-party tested, GMP (or Good Manufacturing Practice) certified and made by brands that are committed to science and transparency, says Dr. Bazilian.

Tip

While vitamin E supplementation was previously thought to help reduce heart disease risk, the American Heart Association does not recommend vitamin E supps for those trying to reduce blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol or stop smoking.

When it comes to vitamin E in particular, there are two forms that are available as supplements.

"There is the natural form, which is d-alpha-tocopherol, and the synthetic form, which is dl-alpha-tocopherol," explains Smith. "Ideally, you'll want to choose the natural form, as it is more active and useful in our bodies."

Don't forget to check the dosage on your supplement label.

"It's important to note that the upper limit for vitamin E is 1000 milligrams (or 1465 IU) for adults 19 and older, so be sure to check that you're not overdoing it with your supplement," says Smith.

A common dosage for vitamin E supplements is 400 IU. See the recommended brands that are Consumer Lab-approved below.

Recommended Vitamin E Supplements

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