Vitamin E

July 21, 2020

What is vitamin E?

There are eight closely related chemicals which make up vitamin E. The most important is alpha-tocopherol which accounts for approximately 90% of the vitamin. The vitamin is essential for the health of cell membranes, so it is particularly beneficial for your skin and eyes.[1]

The amount of vitamin E in the blood depends on the liver which takes up the mineral after it has been absorbed in the small intestine. It is a natural antioxidant and helps to protect the immune system.[2]

​Why take a vitamin E blood test?

A vitamin E test measures how much alpha-tocopherol is in the blood. It can be used to see if you are getting enough vitamin E in your diet or if you’re getting too much. Sometimes some conditions can affect the absorption of vitamin E and the test can be used to see if the body is absorbing as much as it needs.

You can check your level of vitamin E together with 50 other biomarkers integral to good health within Forth’s Ultimate blood test.

What function does vitamin E have in the body?

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and this is its main role in the human body. Antioxidants prevent free radicals or reactive oxygen species from being produced when fat is oxidised. Free radicals can damage cells and increase the risk of developing conditions such as cancer or cardiovascular disease. If free radicals join with oxygen it forms reactive oxygen species (ROS) which damage cells. ROS are naturally formed when we eat, but antioxidants can protect the body from their harmful effects. However, it isn’t just food which produces ROS, cigarette smoke, the UV rays of the sun and air pollution also produce ROS.

Vitamin E helps to maintain the health of cell membranes, particularly in the lungs, red blood cells, brain and heart.[3]

How do changes in vitamin E affect health and wellbeing?

Deficiency in vitamin E is rare and symptoms haven’t been identified in healthy individuals. Individuals who have a good intake of vitamin E have fewer cases of heart disease and cancer. However, there is no evidence to suggest that taking more vitamin E has a greater protective effect and so it is not advised that you supplement your vitamin E intake.

Individuals who have a fat-malabsorption disorder such as abetalipoproteinemia are more likely to be deficient in vitamin E. The digestive tract needs fat to absorb vitamin E, so if they can’t absorb fat then these individuals will be unable to absorb vitamin E.

If you are worried about your vitamin E level or just want to check where you fall on the range, you can test your vitamin E with Forth’s leading blood test service.

What can cause vitamin E to change?

Although rare in healthy individuals, vitamin E deficiency is more likely to occur in individuals who are unable to absorb fat properly. An inherited disorder called abetalipoproteinemia causes poor absorption of dietary fat which can lead to vitamin E deficiency.

Too much vitamin E is likely to be toxic and caused by over-supplementation. No adverse effects have been found if vitamin E is consumed via food. However, high doses of alpha-tocopherol supplements can have serious consequences.

What are the most common symptoms high vitamin E?

Over supplementation of vitamin E has been shown to cause haemorrhage or interfere with blood coagulation in animals.

The symptoms of abetalipoproteinemia include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Nerve problems
  • Blindness from retinal degeneration

​How to keep vitamin E in the healthy range

Vitamin E deficiency is rare and toxicity is usually caused by taking too many supplements containing vitamin E. Research warns against supplementing for this reason. Eating a healthy, balanced diet should be able to provide all the vitamin E with the body needs.

There are several foods which naturally contain vitamin E. Some sources are:

  • nuts
    • almonds
    • hazelnuts
    • peanuts
  • seeds
    • sunflower
  • vegetable oils
  • broccoli
  • kiwi
  • mango
  • tomato
  • spinach

Many of these foods are also nutrient-dense and so contain many of the essential vitamins and minerals the body needs to function. They also provide necessary dietary fibre which helps to keep the digestive system healthy.

Exercise is essential for our health but it does increase the generation of free radicals. However, vitamin E can influence the damage caused by these free radicals. In some cases, vitamin E has been shown to enhance the body’s tolerance of glucose and insulin status as well as improves lipoprotein status.

- Health scores calculated



[1] The Open University. Vitamin E. Nutrition: Vitamins and Minerals. The Open University.

[2] National Institutes of Health. (2018). Vitamin E. Available at:

[3] The Open University. Vitamin E. Nutrition: Vitamins and Minerals. The Open University.

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This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Nicky Keay

Nicola has extensive clinical and research experience in the fields of endocrinology and sport and exercise medicine. Nicky is a member of the Royal College of Physicians, Honorary Fellow in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University and former Research Fellow at St. Thomas' Hospital.

Dr Nicky Keay

Dr Nicky Keay

BA, MA (Cantab), MB, BChir, MRCP.