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Vitamin E

Definition

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant.

Alternative Names

Deficiency - vitamin E; Tocopherol

Function

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects body tissue from damage caused by unstable substances called free radicals. Free radicals can harm cells, tissues, and organs. They are believed to play a role in certain conditions associated with aging.

Vitamin E is also important in the formation of red blood cells and helps the body to use vitamin K.

The ability of vitamin E to prevent cancer, heart disease, dementia, liver disease, and stroke are still not known. At lower levels, vitamin E may help protect the heart.

The best way to get enough essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods.

Food Sources

Vitamin E is found in the following foods:

  • Wheat germ
  • Corn
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Olives
  • Spinach and other green leafy vegetables
  • Asparagus
  • Vegetable oils -- corn, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed

Products made from these foods, such as margarine, also contain vitamin E.

Side Effects

In November, 2004, the American Heart Association stated that high amounts of vitamin E can be harmful. Taking 400 IU per day, or higher, may increase the risk of death.

Taking smaller amounts, such as those found in a typical multivitamin, was not harmful.

Recommendations

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine report the following dietary reference intakes for vitamin E:

Infants

  • 0 to 6 months: 4 mg/day
  • 7 to 12 months: 5 mg/day

Children

  • 1 to 3 years: 6 mg/day
  • 4 to 8 years: 7 mg/day
  • 9 to 13 years: 11 mg/day

Adolescents and Adults

  • 14 and older: 15 mg/day

The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid.

Specific recommendations depend on age, gender, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Women who are pregnant or producing breast milk (lactating) need higher amounts. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.

References

Hamrick I, Counts SH. Vitamin and mineral supplements. Wellness and Prevention. December 2008:35(4);729-747.

Ausiello D, ed. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.

Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2000.

Rakel D, ed. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.


Review Date: 3/7/2009
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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