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What is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E is a complex, fat soluble vitamin that exists in eight different forms. Each of these distinct forms has a unique action in the body. The most active form of vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol and functions as an anti-oxidant. In general, anti-oxidants work in the body to prevent the destruction of important cells by normal metabolism byproducts, called free radicals. Cardiovascular disease and many malignancies have been linked to the cell damage caused by free radicals. Many studies have evaluated the effect of vitamin E consumption and the prevention of these diseases. In a large group of postmenopausal women, food consumption of vitamin E was inversely associated with death from cardiovascular disease(1). Therefore, although not conclusively proven, the link of vitamin E to the prevention of cardiovascular disease is promising(2),(3). Unfortunately, a large study based in New York did not find an association between vitamin E consumption and reduction in post menopausal breast cancer.

Vitamin E has been shown to be effective in reducing breast discomfort in many women during the premenstrual phase and perimenopause transition. 400 - 800 units daily can reduce pain significantly within 1-2 months of use.(4)

What foods contain Vitamin E?
Vitamin E is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts and vegetable oils. In the U.S., fortified cereals are a major source of vitamin E. Caution should be noted for individuals utilizing low fat diets can substantially decrease their vitamin E intake by limiting vegetable oils.

What is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E in women?
15 milligrams (or 22 international units) of alpha-tocopherol is recommended. Alpha-tocopherol is the most active form of vitamin E and is what the RDA is based upon.

What can a vitamin E deficiency do?
Although rare, vitamin E deficiency can occur which limits nerve conduction and is most often associated with people who cannot absorb dietary fat. Individuals diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, or fat malabsorption syndromes should check with their physician about vitamin E requirements.

What can too much vitamin E do?
Although the long term health risk for too much vitamin E is low, the long term safety of excessive vitamin E supplementation has not been tested. An upper limit of vitamin E intake has been established by the Institute of Medicine as 1,000 milligrams (1,500 international units)

1. Kushi LH, Folsom AR, Prineas RJ, Mink PJ, Wu Y, Bostick RM. Dietary antioxidant vitamins and death from coronary heart disease in postmenopausal women. N Engl J Med. 1996;334:1156-1162.
2. de Waart FG, Moser U, Kok FJ. Vitamin E supplementation in elders lowers the oxidation rate of linoleic acid in LDL. Atherosclerosis. 1997;133:255-263.
3. Chan AC. Vitamin E and atherosclerosis. J Nutr. 1998;128:1593-1596.
4. London RS, Sundaram GS, Schultz M, et al. Endocrine parameters and alpha-tocopherol therapy of patients with mammary dysplasia. Cancer Res 1981;41:3811-13.