Vitamin E: what are the benefits? what foods to choose?

Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that we find mainly in fatty foods such as oils and oilseeds. Its main asset? Combat oxidative stress and delay aging. We take stock with a dietitian.

Vitamin E is essential to combat oxidative stress and the effects of time. A balanced diet is sufficient to meet our needs for this essential element. However, food supplements are not recommended.

Vitamin E (tocopherol): what is it? what daily intake?

Vitamin E is one of the thirteen essential vitamins for humans. “Vitamin E is fat soluble like vitamin A and D. This means that it can dissolve in fats,” explains dietitian Claire Trommenschlager.

Vitamin E brings together eight vitamin compounds including four tocopherols . Alpha -tocopherol is the most useful to the body. “These molecules have powerful antioxidant power . For this reason, vitamin E is known to protect against oxidative stress and therefore against aging and cellular degeneration such as cancer or dementia,” according to the specialist. Vitamin E also appears to play a role in maintaining the immune system and other biological processes.

Vitamin E is synthesized in plant elements . We find it in plant foods but also in animal products that consume plants. 

Since vitamin E is fat-soluble, it is better absorbed in the presence of lipids. Moreover, we find it in foods rich in fats such as oils or oilseeds. Claire Trommenschlager, dietician.

Once in the intestine, 30% of vitamin E is absorbed by the body. It is transported to the liver and then stored in adipose and muscle tissues.

Vitamin E deficiency: what are the symptoms?

“Vitamin E deficiency is very rare because a balanced diet is generally sufficient to meet the daily needs of this vitamin. However, undernourished or malnourished people (especially in developing countries) risk lacking vitamin E,” explains the dietician. People who have difficulty absorbing fat are also likely to experience such a deficit.

Vitamin E deficiency can cause impaired reflexes and coordination, difficulty walking and muscle weakness . Premature and deficient babies can develop a severe form of anemia that can be effectively treated with supplementation.

What are the recommended daily intakes?

In order to avoid deficiency and stay in shape, it is better to try to meet your vitamin E needs (and preferably through a balanced diet).

The nutritional reference value for vitamin E was established at 12 mg/day of alpha-tocopherol equivalent by the European Commission , after consultation with EFSA , the European Food Safety Authority. The Agency recommended, for the α-tocopherol form, intakes of 13 mg/day for men and 11 mg/day for women. For infants and children, adequate intakes are between 5 and 13 mg/day.

On food supplements , the dosage of vitamin E is sometimes indicated in international units (IU). 1 mg of alpha-tocopherol is equivalent to 1.5 IU. In France, supplements can contain a maximum daily dose of 30 mg of tocopherol (i.e. 45 IU).

Please note, studies regarding the health benefits of vitamin E supplements are mixed. In addition, it has been shown that at high doses, these products are more harmful to the body.

Oils, oilseeds… what foods contain the most vitamin E?

Vitamin E is found naturally in:

  • vegetable oils such as sunflower oil , rapeseed oil, olive oil , flaxseed oil, safflower oil, canola oil, etc.
  • margarine  ;
  • oilseed seeds and dried fruits such as walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, flax or sesame seeds, pine nuts, etc.;
  • wheat germ  ;
  • fatty fish ( sardines , salmon , etc.) and eggs  ;
  • certain green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, etc.;
  • certain fruits; avocado , tomato, apricot, prune .

An antioxidant as powerful as it is natural

The EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and the European Commission have estimated that foods containing vitamin E can contribute to the protection of cells against oxidative stress and free radicals. Vitamin E is recognized as a powerful antioxidant (source 1).

Vitamin E delays skin aging

Vitamin E limits the damage caused by free radicals on the body's cells, particularly in the skin. In fact, the body stores the vitamin E consumed in the tissues. Vitamin E reaches the epidermis via the flow of sebum, a fatty secretion that protects and lubricates the skin. Consumed every day, this vitamin helps prevent skin sagging and the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

Vitamin E and cancer

“A balanced diet containing the necessary intake of vitamin E protects against the risks of cellular degeneration linked to oxidative stress such as cancer,” according to the nutrition expert.

However, food supplements based on vitamin E do not protect against the risk of cancer . It would even be the opposite, according to certain studies which demonstrate that antioxidant supplements such as vitamin E increase the risk of lung cancer in particular (source 2).

Vitamin E and cognitive functions

A balanced diet containing vitamin E protects our cells from oxidative stress and therefore cellular degeneration. Please note, however, there is no scientific proof that vitamin E supplementation would prevent or delay the development of neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease) and cognitive disorders (source 3).

Other benefits of vitamin E

A balanced diet that meets our vitamin E needs would also:

  • to strengthen the immune system: it has been shown in particular that a vitamin E deficiency induces a reduction in the production of antibodies, the activity of NK lymphocytes, and phagocytosis, the process by which immune cells internalize micro -organizations (source 4).
  • to maintain normal cardiac function . Please note, here again no study shows that taking vitamin E food supplements helps strengthen immunity or protect against cardiovascular risks. Since 2012, these claims have been  banned by the European authorities .

Interview with dietician, Claire Trommenschlager.

Vitamin E Deficiency, Larry E. Johnson, MD, PhD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Checked/Revised Nov 2022

Directive 2008/100/EC of October 28, 2008 , Official Journal of the European Union, 10/2008

Food supplement: Vitamin E, vidal

source 1: Jiang Q. Natural forms of vitamin E: metabolism, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities and their role in disease prevention and therapy. Free Radic Biol Med. 2014 Jul; 72:76-90. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2014.03.035. Epub 2014 Apr 3. PMID: 24704972; PMCID: PMC4120831.

source 2 Sayin VI, Ibrahim MX, Larsson E, Nilsson JA, Lindahl P, Bergo MO. Antioxidants accelerate lung cancer progression in mice. Sci Transl Med. 2014 Jan 29; 6 (221): 221ra15. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007653. PMID: 24477002.

source 3: Farina N, Isaac MGEKN, Clark AR, Rusted J, Tabet N. Vitamin E for Alzheimer's dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD002854. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002854.pub3. Access to March 19, 2024.