Vitamin E is a nutrient that performs as an antioxidant in the body. It exists naturally in certain foods and is sometimes added to others.

Vitamin E exists in 8 chemical forms. Alpha-tocopherol is the form that best meets the dietary requirements of humans.

Vitamin E is fat-soluble, which means it’s absorbed and similarly moves through the body to fats. It’s stored in the liver and fatty tissue and is used when needed.

You’ve probably seen rust on your bike or car. A similar oxidation process and accelerated aging occurs in your body when cells are exposed to molecules called free radicals.

Free radicals weaken and break down healthy cells. These molecules may also contribute to chronic health issues such as heart disease and cancer. Oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between antioxidant defenses and reactive oxygen species or free radicals.

Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals, therefore protecting against cellular damage. Vitamin E works as an antioxidant in the body, and researchers are looking at how its anti-inflammatory properties might play a role in easing or managing certain chronic conditions when taken as a supplement.

Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that involves the degeneration of joints that results in pain and stiffness. Researchers have studied vitamin E supplementation and the symptoms of osteoarthritis and have found some promising results that still need to be verified with further studies.

One small study from 2017 found that individuals with late-stage knee osteoarthritis who were given 400 IU of vitamin E once a day for 2 months had improved clinical symptoms and reduced oxidative stress conditions.

Diabetes is another chronic condition that involves insulin resistance and is connected to increased oxidative stress in the body.

There have been many studies involving vitamin E supplementation and diabetes (types 1 and 2), and there does seem to be evidence that vitamin E may help delay the onset of the disease and ease the symptoms.

As a meta-analysis from 2018 concludes: Vitamin E may be a valuable strategy for controlling diabetes complications, but more studies must be done before anything definitive can be stated.

Vitamin E is a common ingredient in cosmetics for mature-looking skin and is often used in products created for wound healing.

Because vitamin E helps protect the body against oxidative stress, it may help protect the skin from environmental stressors. While some studies have shown that topical vitamin E may have photoprotective properties (meaning it can help protect against skin damage caused by sunlight), there isn’t strong evidence for its wound-healing effects.

More controlled trials that suggest dosages and reasoning for oral application versus topical are needed before conclusions regarding how beneficial vitamin E is for the skin.

Like many other popular antioxidants, researchers have investigated the use of vitamin E as a treatment for a variety of degenerative diseases, including:

Coronary heart disease

While some small studies have suggested an association between lowered rates of heart disease with higher levels of vitamin E, additional clinical trials on mostly middle-aged individuals have not provided evidence that vitamin E supplementation prevents cardiovascular disease or reduces its severity or mortality.

Age-related eye disorders

Oxidative stress plays a role in eye disorders, like cataracts, that can become more prevalent as we age. While some studies have suggested a potential relationship between vitamin E supplements and a lessened chance of the formation of cataracts, there is not currently enough evidence to provide definitive conclusions.

Cognitive decline

Over time, free-radical damage to neurons in the brain can contribute to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases, so it makes sense that researchers would want to know if an antioxidant like vitamin E could provide protective benefits.

Research in this area is limited. There have been both positive results and results that suggest no clear benefit of vitamin E supplementation on cognitive decline, so more studies need to be done.

Cancer

If free radicals in the body are left unchecked, they can create cancer. When it comes to the antioxidant of vitamin E for cancer prevention, the evidence is a little too uneven at this point to support taking vitamin E to prevent cancer.

Also, large doses of vitamin E supplements have been shown to possibly increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Vitamin E deficiency in otherwise healthy individuals is not that common, and most people get enough from the foods they eat.

When it comes to the daily amount of vitamin E that is adequate for most individuals, the National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests:

AgeBiological malesBiological femalesPregnant individualsLactating individuals
0-6 months4mg4mg
7-12 months5mg5mg
1-3 years6mg6mg
4-8 years7mg7mg
9-13 years11mg11mg
14+ years15mg15mg15mg19mg

Vitamin E deficiency

While it’s rare to be deficient in vitamin E, individuals living with cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, or an inability to secrete bile from the liver into the digestive tract may have chronic diarrhea, and as a result, may sometimes require water-soluble forms of vitamin E.

While overdosing on food-based vitamin E is unlikely, the NIH reports that taking high doses of this vitamin in supplement form may cause serious side effects. One serious side effect is an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Another side effect that is being studied is a possible increased risk of prostate cancer.

For most adults using synthetic supplements, dosages shouldn’t exceed 1,000 milligrams a day.

Interactions with medication

Vitamin E can potentially interact with certain medications. While a few examples are listed below, it’s always important to talk with your doctor about the supplements you’re taking before they start you on prescription medication.

Vitamin E may have negative interactions with:

When it comes to getting your nutrients, it’s almost always best to get them via food. If you’re looking to increase your amount of dietary vitamin E, a few good options include:

  • dry roasted sunflower seeds, 1 ounce (oz.): 49% of your daily reccomended (DV) intake
  • dry roasted almonds, 1 oz: 45% DV
  • spinach, boiled, 1/2 cup: 13% DV
  • broccoli, chopped and boiled, 1/2 cup: 8% DV
  • kiwifruit, 1 medium-sized: 7% DV
  • mango, sliced, 1/2 cup: 5% DV
  • tomato, raw, 1 medium-sized: 5% DV

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that can help protect your body from oxidative stress. It may be beneficial in preventing or treating the symptoms of chronic inflammatory conditions such as diabetes and osteoarthritis. Still, more research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be made.

Topical vitamin E may benefit the skin, but don’t believe everything those anti-aging cosmetics or serums promise because more research is needed.

Most people get enough vitamin E through diet, but supplements do exist. Nonetheless, many supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way as most pharmaceuticals, and only one form of vitamin E has proven beneficial for humans (alpha-tocopherol).

There may be some side effects to ingesting too much vitamin E over a longer period of time, and vitamin E can interact with certain medications.

If you’re considering adding more vitamin E to your diet, talk with your doctor first about your specific health concerns.