Vitamin E describes a family of eight fat-soluble vitamins. These organic compounds all act as antioxidants. Only one form of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, is found in large quantities in human tissues and blood. Your body needs regular vitamin E intake to maintain its circulatory system and protect against diseases caused by free radicals.
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The recommended daily allowance of vitamin E used to be 8 mg for women and 10 mg for men. However, these amounts were increased by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine in 2000. Currently, males and females over 14 years should consume 15 mg, or 22.5 IU, of vitamin E every day. If you take vitamin E supplements instead of consuming the vitamin in your diet, RDA increases to 33 IU. Breastfeeding mothers should get 19 mg, or 28.5 IU, daily, while infants and children need less, ranging from 4 to 7 mg respectively, or 6 to 9 IU.
Vitamin E and Your Body
The primary function of alpha-tocopherol, the only form of vitamin E that your body actively maintains, is as an antioxidant. The nutrient protects against damaging substances known as free radicals that are produced during normal metabolism or enter your body in contaminants such as pollutants and cigarette smoke. Vitamin E prevents free radicals from damaging cells, aids your body’s circulatory system and contributes to proper wound healing. Although studies have been done on vitamin E's role in decreasing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, results are still inconclusive.
The best way to get your daily intake of vitamin E is from natural foods in your diet. These include avocados, wheat germ, egg yolks and whole grain products. Margarine and vegetable oils made from corn, cottonseed, soybean, sunflower, safflower and wheat germ are some of the best sources of vitamin E. Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts and sunflower seeds, are also high in vitamin E. Eat these foods fresh whenever possible, because cooking and storage may destroy some of their vitamin E.
Vitamin E supplements can decrease blood clotting and may increase the risk of bleeding in people using anticoagulants, antiplatelet drugs and anti-inflammatory drugs. For adults, megadoses that go beyond the safety limit of 1,500 IU are not advisable, and children should take even less. Some people may have reactions to vitamin E supplements, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and nausea. Do not take more than the recommended amounts of vitamin E, and always consult your doctor before starting any supplemental regimen.