Vitamin E


Vitamin E or RRR‐α‐tocopherol, as all vitamins, is indispensable for human life. Insufficient vitamin E availability results in a neurological condition, ‘ataxia with vitamin E deficiency’ (AVED), and vitamin E administration prevents the progression of the disease. Vitamin E is available especially in nuts, vegetable oils and greens. The reference daily intake for healthy adults is 15 mg and the maximum dose is 1000 mg daily. Many ailments, from cancer to atherosclerosis and neurodegenerative diseases, had been proposed to be prevented or cured by vitamin E; however, recent studies have shown that only low‐grade chronic inflammation, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and immune response may benefit from vitamin E. The mechanism of action of this vitamin is still an object of debate, scientists being either in favour of an antioxidant mechanism or of an action of vitamin E on signal transduction and gene expression modulation.

Key Concepts

  • Low intake of vitamin E results in ataxia with vitamin E deficiency (AVED).
  • Administration of α‐tocopherol protects against the progression of AVED.
  • Vitamin E does not prevent or cure cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Low‐grade inflammation and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NASH, NAFLD) are diminished by vitamin E.
  • Vitamin E improves the immune response, especially in the elderly.
  • A better knowledge of the mechanism of action of vitamin E would be useful to better use its potentials, established its correct dosage and the possible relation between genetic background of humans taking vitamin E and their response to this vitamin.

Keywords: tocopherol; RRR‐α‐tocopherol; vitamin E; avitaminosis E; AVED; antioxidant; cell signalling; gene expression

Figure 1. Molecular structures of tocopherols.
Figure 2. Intestinal absorption of vitamin E.


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Further Reading

Azzi A (2018) Many tocopherols, one vitamin E. Molecular Aspects of Medicine 58: 1–20.

Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds (2000) Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Available from:

Schuelke M (2005) Ataxia with vitamin E deficiency (updated 13 Oct 2016). In: Adam MP, Ardinger HH, Pagon RA, et al. (eds) GeneReviews®. Seattle, WA: University of Washington; 1993–2017. Available from:

Zingg JM and Azzi A (2004) Non‐antioxidant activities of vitamin E. Current Medicinal Chemistry 11: 1113–1133.

Zingg JM (2015) Vitamin E: a role in signal transduction. Annual Review of Nutrition 35: 135–173.

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Azzi, Angelo(Feb 2018) Vitamin E. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027652]