The Unique History of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)

Four tocopherols and four tocotrienols make up vitamin E, which is a collection of eight fat-soluble vitamins. Alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active form of vitamin E, and it’s the one we’ll talk about in this article.

While vitamin E (-tocopherol) was discovered in 1922, but it wasn’t isolated and chemically analyzed until 1935, and it wasn’t manufactured for another three years. Vitamin E, like its vitamin companions A, D, and K, is a fat-soluble molecule that is digested, absorbed, and transported in the same way that fats are. Excess vitamin E, unlike the water-soluble B and C vitamins, accumulates in fat, muscle, and liver tissue, posing a toxicity risk.


Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin that contributes significantly to your overall health. Vitamin E is essential for preventing inflammation and oxidative damage, as well as supporting heart, brain, and eye function. While vitamin E insufficiency is uncommon, those with certain hereditary or fat-malabsorptive disorders are at a higher risk. Nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens, and avocados are all good providers of nutrients.

In a 1993 study of over 90,000 nurses, researchers discovered that those who consumed the most vitamin E had a 30–40 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who consumed the least. A research released the following year indicated that increased vitamin E intake from food was related with lower mortality from coronary heart disease in a cohort of 5,133 Finnish men and women followed for a mean of 14 years.These findings, while intriguing, could only point to a high link. While the study designs attempted to account for confounding variables such as age and smoking status, it’s still possible that supplement users differed in other ways from non-supplement users.


While you can find vitamin E in both foods and supplements, there appear to be differences in the benefits you receive from the two sources. As you’ll see, evidence suggests that it’s better to get your vitamin E from whole food sources whenever possible. While you can get vitamin E from both meals and supplements, the advantages you get from each appear to be different. As you’ll see, datas from research suggests that getting vitamin E from whole food sources is preferable whenever possible.

Vitamin E has been recommended by dermatologists for over 50 years. For decades, the beauty industry has promoted the skin and hair-care benefits of vitamin E oil and vitamin E capsules. Vitamin E protects your skin by acting as a free radical scavenger, mending cells damaged by excessive sun exposure and possibly preventing sunburn in the same way it protects your brain from oxidation.


Because animal products are often low in vitamin E, the majority of vitamin E ingested by citizens of the United States and other industrialized nations comes from vegetable fats. The good news is that alpha-tocopherol may be found in a variety of healthful plant foods, including nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens, and some orange and red fruits, so you can get your vitamin E while also getting a variety of other nutrients.

The USDA’s FoodData Central database lists many of the foods that are rich in Vitamin E:

  • Wheat germ oil – 20 mg per tablespoon
  • Sunflower seeds – 13 mg per ¼ cup
  • Almonds – 9 mg per ¼ cup raw whole nuts
  • Hazelnuts – 5 mg per ¼ cup raw whole nuts
  • Pine nuts – 3 mg per ¼ cup
  • Avocado – 2 mg per ½ avocado
  • Sweet red bell peppers – 2 mg per medium pepper
  • Mango – 3 mg per mango
  • Kiwi – 1 mg per kiwi
  • Turnip greens – 3 mg per cup cooked greens
  • Spinach – 0.5 mg per cup raw leaves
  • Broccoli – 0.7 mg per cup


Is there a safe amount of vitamin E, and is there such a thing as too much vitamin E?

When vitamin E is taken as a supplement rather than as a food, it can be problematic, as it is with other vitamins. Animal studies have shown that high dose alpha-tocopherol supplements can cause hemorrhage and disrupt blood coagulation, while laboratory research has shown that they can also hinder platelet aggregation.

Taking alpha-tocopherol supplements has been linked to an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke in two clinical trials:

  1. In one study, Finnish male smokers ingested 50 mg of nicotine each day for an average of six years. When compared to a control group, vitamin E use did not alter overall mortality but did result in more hemorrhagic strokes.
  1. In the other study, around 15,000 male physicians in the United States were given 400 IU (360 mg) of synthetic vitamin E every other day, along with vitamin C, for an average of eight years. Supplementation has little benefit and increases the risk of stroke.

The upper tolerated limit for vitamin E is 1,000 mg per day. The overall line, based on the research we’ve seen thus far, is that vitamin E supplementation is rarely, if ever, recommended. The evidence shows that receiving your vitamins from food is considerably superior.


Taking a vitamin E supplement is not recommended for most healthy persons due to the risk of overdosing and variable results in studies. The best method to ensure you get enough vitamin E is to eat a range of whole plant foods and include healthy fats in your diet to aid absorption.

Here’s the US government’s best guess for how much vitamin E folks should be consuming on an average day:

  • 0–6 months: 4 mg (AI)
  • 7–12 months: 5 mg (AI)
  • 1–3 years: 6 mg
  • 4–8 years: 7 mg
  • 9–13 years: 11 mg
  • 14+ years: 15 mg
  • Pregnancy: 15 mg
  • Lactation: 19 mg


The main reason someone would be deficient in vitamin E, would be if they have a disorder that impairs their ability to digest and absorb fat. Since vitamin E is fat-soluble, a variety of conditions that make it hard for people to digest fat can lead to a risk of deficiency. These include Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, an inability to secrete bile from the liver into the digestive tract, or a rare inherited disorder called abetalipoproteinemia that interferes with the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients in the blood.

Symptoms of true vitamin E deficiency can include the following:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Impaired vision
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Immune system problems
  • Coordination and walking difficulty

Extremely low-fat diets, on the other hand, can be troublesome because some fat is required for vitamin E absorption. You can have your vitamin E blood levels checked if you feel you’re deficient. Adults should have 5.5–17 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of alpha-tocopherol in their blood, while children should have 3–18.4 mg/L. If your numbers are at the low end of those ranges or below, you should eat extra vitamin E-rich foods.


Vitamin E Benefits: Why it Matters & the Best Places to Find It, FOOD REVOLUTION NETWORK by Ocean Robbins, 2022

Medically reviewed by Laurie Marbas, MD