Although a well-balanced diet will provide sufficient amounts of vitamin E to keep you healthy, certain conditions may make it necessary for you to take a supplement. Since vitamin E is stored in your body, it can accumulate over time. If you ingest amounts exceeding the recommended dose, you risk toxicity, so it's important to be aware of the best ways to safely and effectively take vitamin E supplements.
Although there are no rules about the best time to take vitamin E supplements, choosing the same time each day will help you remember to take it.
Function of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is essential for your immune system. It helps your cells fight off infection and protects your body from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are formed as a result of metabolic functions, such as conversion of food into energy or from exposure to environment pollutants.
In addition to supporting your immune system, vitamin E benefits many organs in your body, including your eyes, reproductive system, blood, skin and brain.
Food Sources of Vitamin E
Although vitamin E supplements may be useful for some health conditions, the American Heart Association advises that they do not offer the same benefits as naturally occurring antioxidants in food. Many natural food sources contain all the vitamin E you need to stay healthy. And your diet includes nutrients that work with vitamin E to help with absorption, such as fat, vitamin C, vitamin B3, selenium and glutathione.
Vegetable oils and products made from oil are the richest sources of vitamin E. Since vitamin E is stored in your fatty tissues, you don't need to eat foods containing it every day. Some foods that are good sources of vitamin E are:
- Vegetable oils, like wheat germ, sunflower, safflower, canola, olive, corn and soybean oils
- Margarine and spreads
- Dairy and eggs
- Nuts, such as peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds
- Seeds, like sunflower seeds
- Green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
- Fortified foods, including breakfast cereals and fruit juices
How Much Do You Need?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is based on the average intake you should strive for to achieve all vitamin E benefits and requirements for good health. The RDA includes vitamin E from both the food you eat and any form of supplements you take. These amounts are:
- Children, ages 1 to 3 years: 6 milligrams (9 IU)
- Children, ages 4 to 8 years: 7 milligrams (10.4 IU)
- Children, ages 9 to 13 years: 11 milligrams (16.4 IU)
- Teens, ages 14 to 18 years: 15 milligrams (22.4 IU)
- Adults: 15 milligrams (22.4 IU)
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 15 to 19 milligrams (22.4 to 28.5 IU)
Do You Need a Vitamin E Supplement?
The most common reason for supplementation of vitamin E is to treat a deficiency, which is rare in healthy people in the U.S. Sometimes a deficiency is linked to certain diseases or rare genetic disorders that cause difficulties with fat absorption, such as Crohn's disease or cystic fibrosis. A vitamin E deficiency is also possible if you are on a very low-fat diet.
- Nerve pain and muscle weakness that result in loss of feeling in the arms and legs
- Vision problems
- Impaired immune system, damage to the red blood cells
- Loss of body movement, poor sense of balance or difficulty in walking
If untreated, vitamin E deficiency may result in permanent nerve damage, blindness, heart disease, impaired thinking and possibly male infertility, according to an article published in Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal in 2014.
Vitamin E Supplements
There are a number of ways to take vitamin E supplements. Orally, they are available in vitamin E capsules, liquid-filled capsules, liquid solution, tablets and chewables as well as topical oils.
Vitamin E has several forms, but alpha-tocopherol is the only one that has the bioavailable capabilities to be used by the human body. The natural form, and most potent, d-alpha-tocopherol, is found in foods and some supplements. A common synthetic form is dl-alpha-tocopherol, which is used in fortified foods and supplements.
It takes approximately 50 percent more of synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol from dietary supplements and fortified foods to obtain the same amount of nutrients found in the natural d-alpha-tocopherol form. For example, 100 IU of natural vitamin E found in food will give you the same benefit as about 150 IU of the synthetic form.
How Much Is Safe?
Few side effects have been reported in healthy adults taking vitamin E doses less than 1,000 milligrams. However, with doses greater than 1,000 milligrams daily, especially for people using a blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin, there is a risk of impaired blood clotting and hemorrhagic stroke resulting in premature death.
For this reason, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine established tolerable upper intake limits (UL) to avoid the potential risk of bleeding. The limits by age are:
- Ages 4 to 8 years: 300 milligrams (450 IU)
- Ages 9 to 13 years: 600 milligrams (900 IU)
- Ages 14 to 18 years: 800 milligrams (1,200 IU)
- Ages 19 years and over: 1,000 milligrams (1,500 IU)
- Pregnant and lactating women: 800 to 1,000 milligrams (1,200 to 1,500 IU)
How to Take Vitamin E
Take vitamin E supplements as directed on the label or in the amount prescribed for the treatment of your medical condition. Do not take more or less vitamin E than recommended or for longer periods of time. Consult your doctor before taking vitamin E if you have any medical conditions or allergies or if you take medications.
Vitamin E supplements work best when taken with food, especially with a meal containing fat. Because vitamin E is fat-soluble, it needs fat for best absorption and to cause the least stomach irritation. Taking vitamin E on an empty stomach may cause nausea, heartburn or other gastric discomforts.
If you tend to eat at light breakfast, the best time to take vitamin E may be with a heavier meal to prevent symptoms of indigestion. If you take your supplement at the same time each day, the routine may make it easier for you to remember to take your pill. If you do forget, do not take extra vitamin E to make up the missed dose.
Vitamin E Side Effects
Some people may be sensitive to vitamin E supplements, even if taken in appropriate doses, which may cause adverse effects. Long term use of vitamin E in large amounts may cause excessive bleeding and present more risks than benefits. Stop taking vitamin E and seek medical help if experience symptoms of:
- Blurred vision
- Stomach cramps or nausea
- Extreme tiredness or weakness
- Mild rash
Precautions and Interactions
Avoid taking other vitamins, mineral supplements or nutritional products with vitamin E supplements. Some prescription drugs interact with vitamin E, including medications for cancer, some antibiotics, anticoagulants and statins. Drugs.com reports that 250 medications are known to interact with vitamin E.
- National Institutes of Health: Vitamin E
- American Heart Association: Vitamin Supplements: Hype or Help for Healthy Eating
- Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal: The Role of Vitamin E in Human Health and Some Diseases
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Vitamin E
- Drugs.com: Vitamin E Side Effects
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E
- Weil: Andrew Weil, M.D.: Best Time to Take Supplements
- Drugs.com: Vitamin E
- RXList: Vitamin E
- WebMD: Vitamin E
- Mayo Clinic: Vitamin E
- LiveScience: Vitamin E: Sources, Benefits & Risks
- Drugs.com: Vitamin E Drug Interactions
- Merck Manual: Professional Version: Vitamin E