Mary Calvagna, MS
is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. There are 8 different forms of vitamin E—each has its own biologic activity. Alpha-tocopherol is the most active form of vitamin E in humans. It is an antioxidant—a substance that acts to protect the body's cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are normal by-products of metabolism, but they can cause cell damage.
Vitamin E's functions include:
Vitamin E deficiency is rare. In developed countries, vitamin E deficiency is seen only in certain conditions, such as liver disease or cystic fibrosis.
Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency include:
People with vitamin E deficiency may also be deficient in vitamins A, D, and K.
As a fat-soluble vitamin, vitamin E is stored in the body and is not excreted in the urine like most water-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is possible for vitamin E to accumulate in the body. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for adults of vitamin E from dietary sources and supplements combined is 1,000 milligrams daily. For children the UL is lower.
The following populations may be at risk for vitamin E deficiency and may require a supplement:
Free radicals are normal by-products of metabolism, but they can cause chain reactions that result in significant cell destruction. This cell destruction can, in turn, increase the risk for chronic diseases, including certain forms of cancer. Antioxidants have the ability to stop this chain reaction. Vitamin E functions in the body as an antioxidant. Because of this antioxidant capability, vitamin E is being studied for a possible role in chronic disease prevention. However, so far there is not good evidence that vitamin E helps in preventing cancer or heart disease. And in some studies, high doses of supplements actually increased the risk of death.
To help increase your intake of vitamin E:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
United States Department of Agriculture
Dietitians of Canada
Health Canada Food and Nutrition
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Vitamin E. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 6, 2013. Accessed February 11, 2015.
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Last reviewed February 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
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