In order to study the frequency of biochemical vitamin E deficiency in chronic alcohol-induced pancreatitis, we measured plasma vitamin E and total blood lipids in 44 patients with chronic pancreatitis and 83 control subjects (44 normal controls; 39 Crohn's disease controls). Mean plasma vitamin E and mean ratio vitamin E/total blood lipids, a more sensitive indicator of vitamin E status, were significantly lower in chronic pancreatitis when compared with either control group. A low vitamin E/total lipids ratio was found in 75% of patients with pancreatitis. Within the chronic pancreatitis group, mean plasma vitamin E and the ratio vitamin E to total lipids were significantly lower in those with steatorrhoea (23 patients--pancreatic steatorrhoea subgroup) than in those without (21 patients--pancreatic non-steatorrhoea subgroup). 91% of the pancreatic steatorrhoea subgroup had a low vitamin E/total lipids ratio. However, patients without pancreatic steatorrhoea also had significantly lower levels of plasma vitamin E and the ratio vitamin E/total lipids when compared to controls. We conclude that biochemical vitamin E deficiency is common in chronic alcohol-induced pancreatitis, particularly in patients with steatorrhoea, and that factors other than fat malabsorption may be responsible for vitamin E deficiency in pancreatic non-steatorrhoea.