The findings may help explain why studies of the health effects of the vitamin have had conflicting results. Vitamin E comes in various forms called tocopherols, which are commonly found in fats and oils.
Supplements of the vitamin may contain a single type of tocopherol, or a mix.
The new research, published in the journal Respiratory Research, found that a form of the vitamin called gamma tocopherol, the kind in corn, canola and soybean oils, was linked to poor lung function in adults.
But another form of the vitamin more typically found in olive and sunflower oils, called alpha tocopherol, seemed to have a beneficial effect on the lungs.