To take the dietary route, first load up on fruits and vegetables. You’ll get a bit of vitamin E, but you’ll also benefit from other health-inducing antioxidants, including vitamin C, which boosts E’s effectiveness. Then, go for nuts and seeds. Sunflower seeds (11 mg of vitamin E per ounce), almonds (7.4 mg per ounce), and even peanut butter (1.6 mg per tablespoon) will help you reach your daily quota of 15 mg. Finally, consider making friends with wheat germ oil. Topping off your salad or popcorn with just 1 tablespoon gives you a hefty 26 mg of the vitamin.
Of course, even then you might have trouble regularly getting as much vitamin E as you want, unless you’re really determined. So it can’t hurt to fill in the gap with a supplement.
If you do, there are some things you should know about choosing one. Vitamin E is available in both natural and synthetic forms. The natural variety contains exclusively active forms of vitamin E, meaning that more of it is actually absorbed in the body. So if cost is not an object, go natural. But expect to pay at least three times more than you would for synthetic. (Natural forms are labeled with a “d,” as in d-alpha; synthetic forms are designated with a “dl” such as dl-alpha.)
Still, don’t feel you’ve got to drop a bundle. Most studies linking E to good health relied on the cheap synthetic stuff. Unfortunately, these synthetic forms contain both active and inactive compounds, so it takes nearly twice as much synthetic vitamin E to match the benefits of the natural variety. Either way, look for a supplement that contains some “mixed tocopherols,” meaning you’ll get a smattering of all eight E molecules instead of just alpha-tocopherol—an important distinction since some scientists think group synergy may be behind studies where dietary E trumped supplements. The vitamin is fat soluble, so be sure to take it with meals.
Another tip: In 2000, the measuring unit was switched from international units, or IUs, to more mainstream milligrams—only most supplement makers haven’t complied. For the record, 1 IU of natural vitamin E equals .67 mg alpha-tocopherol, and 1 IU of synthetic vitamin E equals .45 mg alpha-tocopherol.
Unfortunately, this vitamins enigma isn’t likely to be resolved soon. But until it is, consider Blumberg’s advice: “The evidence may vary, but the fact is that it’s safe, it’s cheap, and it might well work.”
Vitamin E User’s Guide
What is it: Vitamin E is not a single entity but an umbrella term for a family of eight molecules. The tight-knit bunch is divided into two groups: tocopherols and tocotrienols. Within each group are alpha, beta, gamma, and delta forms. The body absorbs alpha-tocopherol the best, which is why scientists and supplement makers have preferred it. But new research points to the importance of other forms as well, and experts now tout mixed-tocopherol as the way to go.Dosage: The RDA for adults is 15 milligrams (22 IUs), but many experts say that’s too low and recommend around 100 IUs instead. For heart disease prevention, take 200 to 400 IUs (134 to 268 mg) daily.
Risks: Vitamin E supplements are extremely safe and have few known side effects. However, vitamin E is a blood thinner and may increase the risk of bleeding problems at doses of more than 1,500 IUs (1,000 mg) per day. If you’re taking an anticoagulant, such as warfarin, heparin, coumadin, or even aspirin, ask your doctor before adding any supplement.