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Table of Contents > Articles > Synthetic Versus Natural Vitamin E: ...
Synthetic Versus Natural Vitamin E: Which Form is Best?

It has been well established that vitamin E is critical to your health. It strengthens your immune and reproductive systems and reduces your risk for heart attacks and strokes. As an antioxidant, vitamin E may also reduce the risk for certain cancers, slow the progression of cataracts and macular degeneration, and offer protection against environmental pollutants.

However, many people don't receive sufficient vitamin E from their diets. There are two main reasons for this. First: Although vitamin E is found in numerous foods, its content is reduced by commercial refining and processing and by cooking at high temperatures. Second: Many people avoid the best food sources for vitamin E because they are also high in fat (for example, nuts, including almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and walnuts; sunflower seeds; and corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, canola, and wheat germ oils and margarines).

If you are turning to vitamin E dietary supplements to promote your health, it's important to realize that there are two forms, natural and synthetic, and that they are not equally effective. Several studies have shown that natural vitamin E is about twice as potent as synthetic vitamin E. The explanation appears to stem from the different molecular structures. Natural vitamin E supplements have the same molecular structure as the vitamin E that is found in foods. This form of vitamin E is also called d-alpha-tocopherol or RRR-alpha-tocopherol.

So, for vitamin E supplementation, it's wise to look for the natural form. A few words of caution, however: Current FDA labeling regulations allow supplements that contain a mixture of both natural and synthetic vitamin E to be labeled as "natural." Often these supplements contain significant amounts of synthetic vitamin E because it is the less expensive form. Be sure to check the ingredient list to make sure that the majority of the vitamin E in the product is in the RRR-alpha-tocopherol or d-alpha-tocopherol form. Another word to the wise: Most multivitamins contain synthetic vitamin E.

Generally, 200 to 400 IU of vitamin E is the recommended daily dosage for adults. Check with your doctor before you begin taking vitamin E if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or are taking blood thinners.


Acuff RV, Thedford SS, Hidiroglou NN, Papas AM, Odom TA Jr. Relative bioavailability of RRR- and all-rac-a-tocopheryl acetate in humans: studies using deuterated compounds. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994;60:397-402.

Burton GW, Traber MG, Acuff RV, et al. Human plasma and tissue a-tocopherol concentrations in response to supplementation with deuterated natural and synthetic vitamin E. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67:669-684.

Integrative Medicine Access: Professional Reference to Conditions, Herbs & Supplements. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.

Review Date: July 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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