Vitamin E is a generic term for eight fat-soluble compounds found in nature. A form of vitamin E called ‘alpha-tocopherol’ has the highest biological activity and is the most abundant in the human body. Vitamin E is an essential micronutrient required for a healthy body. The vitamin E content in foods is often reported as a-tocopherol equivalents (a-TE).
Sources of Vitamin E
Vitamin E is widely available in soft gelatin capsules or as chewable or effervescent tablets, as well as being found in most multivitamin supplements. The most important sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains and wheat germ but can also be found to a degree in seeds and green leafy vegetables.
Selected Food Sources of Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol)
| Food || Milligrams (mg) per serving |
| Wheat germ oil, 1 tablespoon || 20.3 |
| Sunflower seeds, dry roasted, 1 ounce || 7.4 |
| Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce || 6.8 |
| Sunflower oil, 1 tablespoon || 5.6 |
| Safflower oil, 1 tablespoon || 4.6 |
| Hazelnuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce || 4.3 |
| Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons || 2.9 |
| Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce || 2.2 |
| Corn oil, 1 tablespoon || 1.9 |
| Spinach, boiled, ½ cup || 1.9 |
| Broccoli, chopped, boiled, ½ cup || 1.2 |
| Soybean oil, 1 tablespoon || 1.1 |
| Kiwifruit, 1 medium || 1.1 |
| Mango, sliced, ½ cup || 0.7 |
| Tomato, raw, 1 medium || 0.7 |
| Spinach, raw, 1 cup || 0.6 |
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant
Vitamin E is a key element in cell membranes to protect against the damaging effects caused by oxidation - the European Commission has in fact authorised a health claim stating that ‘vitamin E contributes to the protection of cell constituents from oxidative damage’. The damaging effects caused by free radical reactions can lead to various health conditions such as heart disease, cancer and inflammatory conditions. Vitamin E also plays an important role in supporting brain, eye, cardiovascular, maternal and infant health, as well as protecting the skin.
In addition to the aforementioned health benefits vitamin E protects low density lipoprotein (LDL) from oxidation. Research to date shows it to enhance immunity in the elderly and that supplementation with vitamin E lowers the risk of upper respiratory tract infection, particularly the common cold. It also supports red blood cells and contributes to healthy blood flow by regulating the opening of blood vessels and preventing cholesterol from building up on blood vessel walls.
Vitamin E consumption in significant decline
Vitamin E cannot be produced by the body itself therefore it has to be obtained through diet. Consumption of vitamin E has been in significant decline due to changes in modern eating habits combined with the fact that it can be difficult to obtain the required amount of vitamin E through diet alone - this means that supplementation is often required to achieve sufficient intake.
Low vitamin E intake globally should be a serious public health concern
The impact of low vitamin E intake globally should be a serious public health concern, however until recently new scientific research devoted to studying its role in the human body has been limited. The most recently published research is as follows:
- Under investigation is the role of vitamin E supplementation in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. A major trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that vitamin E supplement can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The trial looked at 613 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease - they were studied over a two year time frame in the longest and largest study of its kind to date. Participants took 2,000 IU of vitamin E or a placebo. The vitamin E group showed a 19 per cent lower rate of decline in daily living skills compared to the placebo group.
- Vitamin E supplementation can reduce the negative health implications of fatty liver, which is pandemic in societies where more than half of the population is obese. The results of several clinical studies indicate that the use of vitamin E is associated with a number of benefits in patients with non-alcoholic liver.
- There are studies to indicate that vitamin E intake reduces and normalises the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and heart attack in a group of diabetic patients.