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Can you overdose on vitamin E?

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Vitamin E has had a checkered career. Once a darling of natural health enthusiasts, vitamin E fell out of favor when some studies found that it was ineffective for heart health, and worse, that it might actually increase the risk of death from all causes.

Other studies raised concerns about the possible risks from taking high doses of vitamin E. But according to an expert at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, you don’t need to worry about how much vitamin E you get in your food or even from normal use of supplements.

A new review of the research concludes that your body has natural biological mechanisms to routinely eliminate excess levels of the vitamin, and it’s almost impossible to take too much.

In fact, Maret Traber, a professor at OSU and author of the review just published in the Journal of Lipid Research, the bigger concern is that 90% of Americans don’t get enough vitamin E in their diet.

Vitamin E is actually a family of eight antioxidant compounds, consisting of four types of tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Each of the tocopherols and tocotrienols has unique benefits in the body. Vitamin E in general boosts the immune system and acts as an anticoagulant that can reduce blood clotting.

The study found that two major systems in the liver control the level of vitamin E in the body by routinely excreting excessive amounts. Very high doses from supplements may double the tissue levels of vitamin E but that won’t hurt you according to Traber. She says that unlike fat-soluble vitamins A and D, it’s not possible to accumulate toxic levels of vitamin E in your liver or tissues.

The Top Foods for Vitamin E

It’s best to get your vitamin E from natural organic sources. The top 12 vitamin E foods are:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Olive oil
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnip greens
  • Papayas
  • Avocados
  • Mustard greens
  • Collard greens
  • Asparagus
  • Bell peppers

In addition to consuming a healthy and balanced diet, Traber recommends taking a daily multivitamin that has the full RDA of vitamin E (15 mg or 22.4 IU for adults). The safe upper limit for vitamin E has been set at 300 mg per day.

Most vitamin E supplements only contain alpha-tocopherol, one of the eight forms. On food packages and supplement labels it may appear as "d-alpha-tocopherol" which indicates it comes from a natural source. Synthetic (laboratory-made) vitamin E is listed as "dl-alpha-tocopherol." Avoid the synthetic form and only use the natural form which is about 50% more potent.

Look for a supplement that contains a mixture of both the tocopherols and the tocotrienols for the full benefits of vitamin E.

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