Vitamin E is an antioxidant that fights damaging natural substances known as free radicals. It works in lipids (fats and oils), which makes it complementary to vitamin C, which fights free radicals dissolved in water. As an antioxidant, vitamin E has been widely advocated for preventing heart disease and cancer. However, the results of large, well-designed trials have generally not been encouraging. Many other proposed benefits of vitamin E have also failed to stand up in studies. There are no medicinal uses for vitamin E with solid scientific support.

Requirements

Vitamin E dosage recommendations are a bit complex because the vitamin exists in many forms.

Newer vitamin E recommendations are in milligrams of alpha-tocopherol. Alpha-tocopherol can come from either natural vitamin E (called, somewhat incorrectly, d-alpha-tocopherol) or synthetic vitamin E (called, also somewhat incorrectly, dl-alpha-tocopherol). However, much of the alpha-tocopherol in synthetic vitamin E is inactive. For this reason, you have to take about twice as much of it to get the same effect.1-3

There are other forms of vitamin E as well, such as beta-, delta-, and gamma-tocopherols, all of which occur in food. These other forms may be important; for example, preliminary evidence hints that gamma-tocopherol may be the most important (or, perhaps, the only) form of vitamin E for preventing prostate cancer.4,211On this basis, it has been suggested that the best vitamin E supplement would be a mixture of all these.5-7

To make matters even more confusing, vitamin E dosages are commonly listed on labels as international units (IU). Here's how you make the conversion. One IU natural vitamin E equals 0.67 mg alpha-tocopherol; one IU synthetic vitamin E equals 0.45 mg alpha-tocopherol. Therefore, to meet the new dietary recommendations for vitamin E (15 mg per day), you need to get either 22 IU natural vitamin E (22 IU x 0.67 = 15 mg) or 33 IU synthetic vitamin E (33 IU x 0.45 = 15 mg). The official US and Canadian recommendations for daily intake of vitamin E are as follows:

  • Infants
    • 0-6 months: 4 mg
    • 7-12 months: 5 mg
  • Children
    • 1-3 years: 6 mg
    • 4-8 years: 7 mg
    • 9-13 years: 11 mg
  • Males and Females
    • 14 years and older: 15 mg
  • Pregnant Women: 15 mg
  • Nursing Women: 19 mg
Sources

The best food sources of vitamin E are polyunsaturated vegetable oils, seeds, and nuts. To get a therapeutic dosage, though, you need to take a supplement. The National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements offers this list of foods that are high in vitamin E:239

Food Serving size Vitamin E content
(milligrams [mg])
% Daily Value
Wheat germ 1 tablespoon 20.3 100
Sunflower seeds, dry roasted 1 ounce 7.4 37
Almonds, dry roasted 1 ounce 6.8 34
Sunflower oil 1 tablespoon 5.6 28
Safflower oil 1 tablespoon 4.6 25
Hazelnuts, dry roasted 1 ounce 4.3 22
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons 2.9 15
Peanuts, dry roasted 1 ounce 2.2 11
Corn oil 1 tablespoon 1.9 10
Olive oil 1 tablespoon 1.9 10
Spinach, boiled ½ cup 1.9 10
Broccoli, boiled ½ cup 1.2 6
Soybean oil ½ cup 1.1 6
Kiwifruit 1 medium 1.1 6
Mango ½ cup 0.7 4
Tomato, raw 1 medium 0.7 4
Spinach, raw 1 cup 0.6 3
Vitamin E Deficiency

In developed countries, mild dietary deficiency of vitamin E is relatively common.8-10