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Definition of International unit (IU)

International unit (IU): An international unit (IU) is an internationally accepted amount of a substance. This type of measure is used for the fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D and E) and certain hormones, enzymes, and biologicals (such as vaccines).

The definition of an international unit (IU) is generally arbitrary, technical, and eminently forgettable. For example, an IU of vitamin E is the specific biological activity of 0.671 milligrams of d-alpha-tocopherol. Nonetheless, most IUs are quite handy and helpful in use as a means of standardizing measures.

All international units are officially defined by the International Conference for Unification of Formulae.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018
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