Everything you need to know about vitamin E

What it does, where it comes from in your diet and why you probably don't need a supplement

vitamin E

Photo, Roberto Caruso.

What it does

Serums and face creams often boast that they’re rich in vitamin E — but what does it really do? Vitamin E is an antioxidant powerhouse, helping protect cells, tissues and organs from free radicals, which may play a role in the development of cancer. It also supports a healthy immune system.

Are you getting enough?

Vitamin E is typically found in healthy fats, says Laura MacLean, an Edmonton-based dietitian and a national spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada. That means if you regularly eat nuts, butters, oils and seeds, chances are high that your diet is rich in vitamin E.

“The best sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, non-hydrogenated margarine, all nuts and seeds, meats and spinach,” says MacLean.

Health Canada recommends men and women over the age of 19 aim to take in about 15 milligrams (mg) of vitamin E per day. Eating half an avocado will log four mg, while a quarter-cup of toasted almonds has up to 18 mg. Dark leafy greens, sunflower oil and fish are other popular sources.

Related: Everything you need to know about vitamin B12

When to supplement

“There’s no need to supplement at any age,” says MacLean, noting that Health Canada has set the safe upper daily limit of vitamin E at 1,000 mg for both men and women. Excessive amounts of vitamin E can build up in the body because fat cells store the vitamin. (Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C, are flushed out of the body through urine, so it doesn’t matter how much you take.)

“Vitamin E acts like a blood thinner — too much can put you at risk for bruising and bleeding,” MacLean said.

Research on whether vitamin E plays a role in preventing heart disease and cancer is underway, but nothing definitive has come from it yet. In fact, some evidence has suggested that it may increase risks of cancer and death, says MacLean.

When to talk to your doctor

Those with a vitamin E deficiency may experience muscle weakness, vision problems and a weakened immune system. People with conditions that make it difficult for their body to absorb fat, such as irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, should speak to their doctor about vitamin E, but MacLean stresses that deficiencies are rare. “The average person is not going to have this,” she says. “We get enough fats and oils through our diet.”

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