Extra vitamin E — is it safe?

Originally Published: September 20, 1996 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 8, 2011
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Dear Alice,

I've been taking a daily supplement of 400 IUs of Vitamin E. I recently bought a bottle of 1000 IUs, and a friend told me that that's too much to take, and could even be bad for me. Is that true?

Dear Reader,

As with other vitamins, nutrients and minerals, it is often best to get your vitamin E by eating a varied and healthy diet rather than using supplements — unless your doctor or other medical care provider specifically recommends otherwise. The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E in individuals 14 years or older is 22.5 IU (15mg). If a woman is breastfeeding, that requirement increases to 28.5 IU (19mg). There is no need to exceed the RDA level of intake unless you have been diagnosed with a vitamin E deficiency or a condition that would put you at risk for a deficiency. With those numbers in mind, you may find that taking 1000 IU, or even 400 IU, of vitamin E daily over the long term can do some damage to your wallet (and possibly your body) without much benefit.

If you have been taking vitamin E supplements, you don't need to worry just yet; it does not appear to be harmful in large doses of up to 1500 IU per day over a short period of time. However, recent studies have shown that taking supplements of over 400 IU over the long term is associated with an increased risk of mortality (from all causes). The reason for this association is not clear and some of these studies have been criticized due to flaws in their designs. However, you might want to consider your reasons for taking vitamin E supplements before adding them to your routine over an extended period of time. Remember, vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin. This means that any excess of the vitamin is stored in the body rather than excreted like water-soluble vitamins. Getting too much of fat soluble vitamins (others include vitamins A, D, and K) can lead to build-up in your body.

Don't forget that the pills are not the only source of vitamin E going into your body; you will also be getting vitamin E through foods such as:

  • almonds, peanuts, filberts
  • wheat germ, cereal grains
  • turnip greens, broccoli, spinach, leafy greens
  • peaches, strawberries
  • egg yolks
  • milk fat
  • liver
  • sunflower and safflower oils  

Finally, as with any dietary supplement, the amount of vitamin E in each pill can vary greatly because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate nutritional supplements. That is, your 400 IU supplement may contain much more or much less vitamin E than what is listed on the label. So, if you feel a vitamin E supplement is a good choice for you, it would be wise to speak with your health care provider about how much to take and how to find a reliable supplement brand. In the meantime, feel free to grab a leafy green salad with almonds and a little sunflower oil — that should hold you over!

Alice