Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Vitamin E Bad For You?

Also Known As: Tocopherol



Short answer

Vitamin E is essential for overall health, offering benefits such as antioxidant protection and supporting eye, skin, and immune system health. However, overconsumption can pose risks, such as increased bleeding, potential prostate cancer risk, and interactions with medications. Adherence to the recommended dietary allowance is crucial to avoid potential adverse health impacts. Obtaining Vitamin E from natural food sources like nuts and seeds is typically preferable to supplementation.



Long answer

The Vital Role of Vitamin E in the Body

Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that plays several critical roles in maintaining good health. Known primarily for its antioxidant properties, Vitamin E helps protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals—unstable molecules that can harm cellular structures. This defense is not only crucial for preventing chronic diseases but also essential for maintaining a well-functioning immune system.

Beyond its antioxidant function, Vitamin E is imperative for:

  • Eye Health: It protects the eyes from oxidative stress, potentially reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.
  • Skin Health: Vitamin E’s ability to absorb the energy from ultraviolet (UV) light means it plays a preventive role in photo-protection, preventing UV-induced free radical damage to skin.
  • Regulation of Enzyme Activity: It participates in enzymatic processes that are vital for muscle and nerve maintenance.
  • Gene Expression: Vitamin E influences the expression of genes involved in immune response, cell signaling, and metabolic pathways.

There’s compelling evidence to support these roles. A review of studies published in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine discussed the importance of Vitamin E in preventing lipid peroxidation—a process that can lead to cell damage.

Regarding eye health, a large-scale study known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that a combination of Vitamin E, Vitamin C, beta-carotene, and zinc could reduce the risk of AMD progression by about 25%.

For the skin, research from the Journal of Molecular Medicine confirms that the topical application of Vitamin E can reduce damage from UV exposure and improve skin’s overall resilience.

While the positive impacts of Vitamin E on health are well-documented, it’s also important to note that balance is key. Over-supplementation can lead to adverse effects, which we’ll explore further in this article. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is 15 milligrams (or 22.4 IU) of vitamin E per day. Sticking to these guidelines can help ensure you reap the benefits of Vitamin E without overstepping into risky territory.

This vital nutrient can be found in a variety of foods, such as:

Food Source Vitamin E (mg per serving)
Sunflower seeds, roasted 7.4 mg
Almonds, roasted 6.8 mg
Spinach, boiled 3.4 mg
Avocado, raw 2.7 mg
Peanut butter 2.9 mg

Adequate intake of these foods can help maintain Vitamin E levels within the proper range, supporting its indispensable roles in the body and contributing to overall wellness.

Recommended Daily Intake and Sources of Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that plays a critical role in protecting cell membranes against damage caused by free radicals. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E, as advised by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), varies depending on age, sex, and other physiological conditions like pregnancy and lactation.

Here are the RDAs for different groups:

  • Infants (0-6 months): 4 mg (6 IU) daily
  • Infants (7-12 months): 5 mg (7.5 IU) daily
  • Children (1-3 years): 6 mg (9 IU) daily
  • Children (4-8 years): 7 mg (10.4 IU) daily
  • Children (9-13 years): 11 mg (16.4 IU) daily
  • Teenagers (14-18 years): 15 mg (22.4 IU) daily for both males and females
  • Adults (19+ years): 15 mg (22.4 IU) daily for both males and females
  • Pregnant teenagers and women: 15 mg (22.4 IU) daily
  • Lactating teenagers and women: 19 mg (28.4 IU) daily

It’s crucial to note that these amounts are based on the alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E, as it's the most active form in humans.

Sources of Vitamin E can be categorized as food sources and supplementation. Whole foods are the best natural sources as the body absorbs and utilizes vitamins and minerals most effectively from dietary intake.

Natural food sources high in Vitamin E include:

  • Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts
  • Vegetable oils, including sunflower oil, wheat germ oil, almond oil, and safflower oil
  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach and Swiss chard
  • Fruits, such as kiwifruit, blackberries, and avocados
  • Fish, notably salmon, rainbow trout, and cod

When considering supplements as a source, it's important to keep a few things in mind:

  • Many vitamin E supplements contain dosages that significantly exceed the RDA, which could potentially lead to negative health effects.
  • Supplements can contain either natural (d-alpha-tocopherol) or synthetic (dl-alpha-tocopherol) forms of vitamin E, with the natural form being more potent and better utilized by the body.
  • For individuals unable to meet their needs through diet alone, supplementation might be necessary, but it’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplement regimen.

In summary, while Vitamin E is an essential nutrient important for maintaining immune function and cellular health, obtaining it from a balanced diet composed of diverse food sources is highly recommended. For those considering a supplement, careful attention to the form and dosage is necessary, as is medical guidance to avoid toxicity and interactions with other medications.

Vitamin E Supplementation: Benefits vs. Rispects

When considering vitamin E supplementation, it's important to weigh both the potential health benefits and the risks associated with excessive intake. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant, known for its role in protecting cells from oxidative damage. However, just like with any supplement, moderation is key, and the context of usage—i.e., whether for prevention or treatment of specific conditions, or for general health—can determine its appropriateness. Here, we delve into the science-backed benefits and potential perils of vitamin E supplementation.

Potential Benefits:

  • Antioxidant Activity: Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that helps fight free radicals in the body, potentially reducing oxidative stress linked to chronic diseases.
  • Heart Health: Some research suggests that vitamin E may help prevent or delay coronary heart disease by inhibiting the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, though findings have been mixed.
  • Skin Healing: Vitamin E has been touted for its benefits on skin health, improving moisture and elasticity, and helping heal scars and burns. However, more robust clinical trials are needed to solidify these claims.
  • Neuroprotective Effects: There is some evidence that vitamin E may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline, but studies are inconclusive and it does not appear to benefit those already diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Potential Risks:

  • Bleeding Risk: High doses of vitamin E can inhibit platelet aggregation and antagonize vitamin K-dependent clotting factors, potentially increasing the risk of bleeding, especially in patients on anticoagulant therapy.
  • Prostate Cancer: One large-scale study, the SELECT (Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial), raised concerns when it found a potential increased risk of prostate cancer in men taking vitamin E supplements.
  • Stroke: There is some concern, based on research, that high doses of vitamin E supplementation might increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke, a rare but potentially deadly event.
  • Drug Interactions: Vitamin E can interact with certain medications, including chemotherapy drugs, statins, and medications that are metabolized by the liver, altering their effectiveness.
  • Antioxidant Imbalance: Over-supplementation may disrupt the balance of antioxidants in the body, potentially leading to oxidative damage— the opposite of its intended benefit.

Considering the benefits and risks, it is essential for individuals to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any vitamin E supplementation, particularly if they have existing health conditions or are taking other medications. More so, adhering to the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for vitamin E is crucial to minimize potential harms. The current RDA for vitamin E for adults is 15 milligrams (22.4 International Units, or IU) of natural alpha-tocopherol per day.

It's worth noting that many of the benefits associated with vitamin E can often be obtained through a balanced diet rich in nuts, seeds, and vegetables, reducing the need for supplementation. This approach also brings additional nutrients and dietary components that can support overall health. The key to supplementing wisely is informed decision-making based on current scientific evidence, and that’s where the importance of listening to expert bodies and scrutinizing the latest research comes into play.

When analyzing various studies on vitamin E supplementation, it is important to approach the findings with a critical eye. Study designs, dosages, forms of vitamin E (synthetic vs. natural), population demographics, and study duration can all influence the outcomes. For example, synthetic forms of vitamin E, listed as "dl-alpha-tocopherol," are not as active in the body and may not provide the same benefits or risks as natural forms, listed as "d-alpha-tocopherol."

Ultimately, the benefits of vitamin E supplementation will vary person-to-person and it is only under specific circumstances that supplemental vitamin E might be recommended beyond a well-rounded diet. The potential risks point to a need for caution, especially when considering high-dose supplements, and underscore the importance of approaching supplementation with a personalized, evidence-based methodology.

The Dangers of Vitamin E Overdose

Vitamin E is well-known for its antioxidant properties, and while it is essential for many physiological functions, there is such a thing as too much. Understanding the dangers associated with vitamin E overdose is crucial to maintaining optimal health. The following are some of the risks and potential health consequences of excessive vitamin E consumption.

Increased Risk of Hemorrhage: One well-documented complication of high doses of vitamin E is the increased propensity for bleeding. Vitamin E can act as a blood thinner, potentially leading to hemorrhagic stroke if taken in excessive amounts. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that high doses of vitamin E supplements might increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke by 22%.

Interference with Medication: Vitamin E overdose might also interact with certain medications, particularly anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin). This can amplify the medication’s effects, increasing the risk of bleeding. It’s imperative for individuals on blood thinners to consult a healthcare provider before taking vitamin E supplements.

Prostate Cancer Concerns: The SELECT (Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial) study raised concerns when it found that dietary supplementation with vitamin E significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men. These findings suggest that men should be cautious with vitamin E supplementation, especially in dosages exceeding recommended amounts.

Cardiovascular Health: While the cardiovascular benefits of vitamin E have been touted, an overdose can have the opposite effect. A meta-analysis of randomized trials concluded that high-dosage (≥400 IU per day) vitamin E supplements could increase all-cause mortality, cautioning against the high-dose supplementation of vitamin E particularly in individuals with chronic diseases.

Osteoporosis Risk: Studies have suggested that elevated levels of vitamin E in the body may be associated with decreased bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis. A 2012 study in mice published in Nature Medicine indicated that vitamin E could negatively influence bone remodeling directly. Additional research is necessary to understand this connection in humans fully.

Antioxidant Imbalance: Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, which means it helps neutralize free radicals that can damage cells. However, in large doses, vitamin E might disrupt the delicate balance of antioxidants in the body and potentially lead to oxidative stress instead of preventing it.

Adverse Effects on Fetal Development: Pregnant women are often cautioned against excessive vitamin E intake. High doses can lead to congenital disabilities or complications such as preterm rupture of membranes (PROM). The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for pregnant women should not be exceeded without medical supervision.

In conclusion, while vitamin E is an essential nutrient, an overdose can lead to several serious health issues. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for adults is 1,000 milligrams (mg) or approximately 1,500 IU of the natural form or 1,100 IU of the synthetic form. Staying within these limits and obtaining vitamin E primarily from dietary sources is a prudent approach to avoiding the dangers associated with overdose.

Any supplementation should be done under the guidance of a healthcare provider who can help determine individual needs and account for any potential interactions with medications or health conditions.

Interactions with Medications and Other Nutrients

Navigating the labyrinth of supplement-drug-nutrient interactions isn't always straightforward. Let's dissect the complex encounters vitamin E may have when it crosses paths with various medications and nutrients:

1. Anticoagulant and Antiplatelet Medications:

Vitamin E possesses natural anticoagulant properties, which means it can thin the blood. This might be beneficial for some, but in combination with anticoagulant or antiplatelet drugs (such as warfarin, aspirin, clopidogrel), it could potentially heighten the risk of bleeding. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that vitamin E supplementation in high doses could interfere with the clotting ability of blood, which is particularly precarious for those already on blood thinners.

2. Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy:

There's a delicate balance at play when it comes to antioxidants and cancer treatments. Some preliminary research, including insights from the National Cancer Institute, suggests that high doses of antioxidants, like vitamin E, might reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, potentially protecting cancer cells from the oxidative damage these treatments are designed to inflict.

3. Statins and Niacin:

Individuals taking statins or niacin for cholesterol control should approach vitamin E with caution. There is evidence, including a report from the New England Journal of Medicine, that combining vitamin E with these medications might negate the intended heart-protective effects of these drugs, though more research is required to fully understand this interaction.

4. Cytochrome P450 Substrate Drugs:

The liver enzyme cytochrome P450 is responsible for metabolizing various drugs. Vitamin E, particularly in high doses, can affect this enzyme's activity. As noted in studies referenced by the Linus Pauling Institute, this could alter the metabolism of drugs that are P450 substrates, leading to either increased toxicity or decreased efficacy of these medications.

5. Interactions with Vitamins and Minerals:

  • Vitamin K: Vitamin E can interfere with vitamin K-dependent blood clotting mechanisms, an interaction that's especially troubling for patients with vitamin K deficiencies or those on vitamin K antagonist therapy.
  • Iron: High doses of vitamin E may exacerbate the oxidative stress caused by excess iron, especially in individuals with conditions like hemochromatosis. This stress could potentially damage cells and tissues.
  • Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene: An antagonistic effect may occur when vitamin E is taken with vitamin A or beta-carotene, potentially increasing the risk of vitamin A deficiency, as per studies cited by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Understanding these interactions is critical for maintaining a harmonious environment within our bodies. Those under medication or with specific nutrient concerns should always consult healthcare professionals before beginning any vitamin E supplementation. This tailored approach ensures that the supplement serves as an ally rather than an adversary in one's health journey.

Vitamin E in Skincare: Topical Use Concerns

Vitamin E, known scientifically as tocopherol, is often praised for its antioxidant properties and is a common ingredient in a plethora of skincare products. Its claimed benefits range from moisturizing the skin to reducing the appearance of scars and even protecting the skin from damage. However, caution is prudent because the topical application of Vitamin E may not be suitable for everyone and could pose potential concerns.

Allergic Reactions and Contact Dermatitis
One of the primary concerns with Vitamin E in skincare is the possibility of allergic reactions. Individuals with sensitive skin, or those allergic to Vitamin E itself, may experience contact dermatitis, a type of eczema that leads to redness, itching, and blistering. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that tocopherol could cause allergic contact dermatitis and recommended patch testing before widespread use.

Acne and Breakouts
While Vitamin E is often included in formulas targeted toward dry skin, those with acne-prone or oily skin may experience breakouts after using products containing this ingredient. This is because Vitamin E can be heavy and occlusive, potentially clogging pores and exacerbating acne issues. People with these skin types should proceed with caution when incorporating Vitamin E products into their skincare routine.

Photocontact Dermatitis Due to Sun Exposure
Some studies suggest that Vitamin E could lead to photocontact dermatitis when skin treated with the vitamin is exposed to sunlight. This condition differs from phototoxicity and photoallergy, and it involves an immune system reaction to the combination of a substance on the skin and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Thus, it is essential to follow up the application of Vitamin E-enriched skincare products with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Interference with Healing
Though often touted as a scar-reducing treatment, Vitamin E's effectiveness in wound healing is debated. Research indicates that in some cases, the application of Vitamin E does not help and may actually impair wound healing. Avoid using Vitamin E on fresh cuts, surgical sites, or open wounds unless advised by a healthcare professional.

Potency and Formulation Issues
The quality and concentration of Vitamin E in skincare can also pose concerns. Products may contain varying forms and strengths of Vitamin E, with some synthetic versions potentially being less beneficial than natural forms or might even contain contaminants. Users should opt for products with reputable sourcing of Vitamin E and seek out formulations designed to maximize stability and efficacy.

Risks of Oxidation
Vitamin E can oxidize on the skin when exposed to air and light. Oxidation of ingredients in skincare products is not just a matter of reduced efficacy; there is a potential for oxidized Vitamin E to cause skin irritation or inflammation due to the formation of free radicals, which are the very compounds that antioxidants like Vitamin E are supposed to neutralize.

It's important to weigh these concerns against the possible benefits of Vitamin E and to consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional before making changes to your product choices, especially if you have pre-existing skin conditions or sensitivities.

Frequently asked questions

Although vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect cells from oxidative stress, there is limited and inconclusive evidence to support the claim that it significantly improves athletic performance. The rationale behind this claim is that it might reduce exercise-induced muscle damage, but more robust research is needed. Athletes should focus on a balanced diet and consult a healthcare provider for personalized supplement advice.

The natural form of vitamin E, known as d-alpha-tocopherol, is generally more potent and better absorbed by the body than the synthetic form, dl-alpha-tocopherol. If supplementation is necessary, opt for a product that contains the natural form, often labeled as "d-alpha" with mixed tocopherols or tocotrienols, to ensure you're getting the most benefit from the supplement.

While vitamin E has properties that may benefit the skin when applied topically, taking it as a supplement for skin health should be done cautiously. Only under certain circumstances, like a confirmed deficiency or specific skin conditions, might supplements be recommended. It’s important to note that oral supplementation is not a substitute for topical use when it comes to immediate skin protection or healing of scars and should be discussed with a healthcare provider.

Vitamin E deficiency is rare but can occur if your diet lacks adequate sources of this nutrient or if your body has trouble absorbing fat-soluble vitamins due to a medical condition. Signs of a deficiency may include neuropathy, characterized by nerve damage leading to numbness and muscle weakness; retinopathy, which can affect vision; and immune system impairment, making it harder to fight off infections. Premature infants with low birth weight may also be at risk for vitamin E deficiency.

Ask a question about Vitamin E and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • intestinal cramps
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • blurred vision
  • rash
  • bleeding risk increased
  • drug interactions

Possible long-term side effects

  • hemorrhagic stroke risk
  • prostate cancer risk in men
  • anticoagulant effects exaggerated
  • antioxidant imbalance
  • oxidative stress
  • osteoporosis risk
  • congenital disabilities risk if pregnant
  • all-cause mortality increase with high doses

Ingredients to be aware of

  • synthetic forms of vitamin e (dl-alpha-tocopherol)
  • dosages exceeding rda


  • antioxidant properties
  • eye health protection
  • skin health
  • enzymatic regulation
  • gene expression
  • heart disease risk reduction
  • skin healing
  • neuroprotective effects

Healthier alternatives

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Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 12-21-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Joey Conners
Published on: 12-21-2023

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