When one thinks of vitamins, there are some usual candidates that land at the top of the queue. Vitamin C, vitamin D, maybe some of the B vitamins. However, one usually forgets about vitamin E – if they ever think about it in the first place. This is a shame, because vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that has been shown to help with aging, among other vital processes. Vitamin E is present in a wide variety of foods, which makes it all the more surprising that most US adults fail to come close to getting their required daily amount.
Acting as a powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin E also helps protect cell membranes against damage caused by free radicals and prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Beyond these functions, vitamin E is also required for structural and functional maintenance of skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle. Many may not realize that there is much more to skeletal and muscular health, than calcium. Vitamin E also helps with the formation of red blood cells.
Astute readers may also be aware that vitamin B12 and iron are also necessary for red blood cell health. Vitamin E also helps with maintaining stores of vitamins A and K, iron, and selenium. Its role as an antioxidant, which can help to stop cellular damage, should now be obvious.
Vitamin E has other benefits as well, such as helping to prevent some diabetes-related damage, helping with immune health, and protecting against the oxidative damage that can lead to heart disease. Researchers have also looked at potential protective effects against cancer, how it may help to fight against some symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and other benefits. It must be remembered that there is no one vitamin, food or nutrient which is a “cure-all”, but vitamin E certainly does offer a plethora of benefits.
What Exactly Is It?
Did you know that vitamin E is actually a blanket name for eight different nutrients? The tocopherols and the tocotrienols are the two types which fall under the vitamin E umbrella. Foods will actually contain nearly all the different types, though there are a few caveats. These fat-soluble antioxidants play a bigger role in our role than most people realize. Alpha-tocopherol is the most well-known form of vitamin E.
Alpha-tocopherol has been studied to have potent effects on cellular functions – which may modulate heart attack risks. Alpha-tocopherol is also the only form that is recognized to meet human requirements. The liver will take up vitamin E after it has been absorbed from the small intestine. Vitamin E is also involved in immune function and cell signaling, regulation of gene expression, and other metabolic processes. Starting to sound pretty important, right?
Interestingly, if one is looking to supplement with vitamin E, synthetic alpha-tocopherol is not the same as natural. This is unusual for vitamins, as most synthetic forms are identical to the natural form. Chemically synthesized vitamin E is known as all rac-alpha-tocopherol. To make things more confusing, the way the supplements are labeled can be very misleading. D-alpha is the label for natural, while dl-alpha will signify synthetic. A specific transfer protein has shown to be the issue in uptake, as natural forms of vitamin E seem to work twice as well as synthetic.
Where Can I Get Some?
Alpha-tocopherol is found in many different foods. If so inclined, consuming one serving of wheat germ oil contains an entire day’s worth of vitamin E. Sunflower seeds are another great source of vitamin E. Almonds are another good source, as well as sunflower and safflower oil. Obviously these oils are not perfect for consumption, and consuming them is up to the individual. Hazelnuts contain large amounts of vitamin E as well. Spinach and broccoli both contain vitamin E as well, though they are in much smaller amounts.
Of the many different food sources, almonds are probably the easiest, most practical way to get enough vitamin E for the day. Loaded with other nutrients as well, almonds are a common snack that go well with many different foods and meals. Hazelnuts are another easy option, as they go well with many meals as well, and contain large amounts of vitamin E. Spinach and broccoli, though containing a small amount of vitamin E, do not have enough to consider them serious candidates for meeting daily requirements.
Though nuts are not the most ideal food to make up a large majority of your daily calories, hazelnuts and almonds are two serious candidates that you should consider including daily. Again, it is important to not consider nuts as a real staple of one’s diet, but rather an addition or ornament to an already nutrient rich lifestyle.
One food not yet mentioned, which is also very high in vitamin E content, is Swiss chard. One cup of Swiss chard will provide about 20% of your daily value of vitamin E. Swiss chard also provides plenty of polyphenol antioxidants, with 13 different kinds being found, at last count. This is tremendous for a food which is so low in caloric density! Chard is also unique, in that it supplies betalains, a type of phytonutrient.
Between the delicious nuts listed, and the abundance of nutrition found in Swiss chard (among other choices), it’s easy to get vitamin E in a delicious form. With all of these healthy choices, it seems hard to believe that many are not meeting their daily requirements for vitamin E.
Am I Deficient?
Chances are, you are likely a little deficient, if not more. It all depends on your daily diet. Are you consuming a lot of almonds and Swiss chard? Maybe you eat a lot of hazelnuts? If the answer to this question is no, you may very well be deficient. Some common signs of vitamin E deficiency are dry hair or loss of hair, muscular weakness, cramps, slow healing, and gastrointestinal diseases. Higher deficiency in vitamin E can show up as: mild anemia, decrease in sex drive, cataracts, neurological deficits, and brain function abnormalities.
Do these sound like fun ailments? I didn’t think so. Keep in mind though, that vitamin E deficiency is fairly rare in developed countries, and is not as common as something like iron deficiency. In developing countries however, vitamin E deficiency is more common, and can happen to many. Problems in the US with vitamin E levels are usually due to fat malabsorption, so make sure you visit your doctor for your routine checkups.
In the case that you need to supplement with vitamin E, it is important to be well informed. Those with Crohn’s disease may in fact need water-soluble forms of vitamin E. One such form is tocopheryl polyethylene glycol-1000 succinate. Besides special cases, it is rare to need to supplement with vitamin E. If one is really adverse to adding more vitamin E rich foods to their daily diet, supplements can be obtained at nearly any pharmacy or grocery store. Usually the form seen is alpha-tocopherol, but this isn’t always the case.
Vitamin E has a low toxicity, with 70 times the recommended daily amount being required before it becomes a problem. 400mg is the usual dosage for vitamin E supplementation, and this is well within the safe range of dosage. There is unfortunately not a widespread consensus among doctors or researchers on whether supplementing with extra vitamin E is worthwhile. Some will say it’s beneficial, some will say it’s useless, and some will even say it’s harmful.
The studies are far from definitive, and the overall consensus seems to show that small doses of exogenous antioxidants (such as vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin E) would likely be a good idea, with large amounts not. Again, this is a highly individualistic choice, and a good summary of the different vitamin E studies can be found here. It also again is worth mentioning that one should always consult with their doctor, before taking any new supplement or drug.
Did you learn anything about vitamin E? Do you include vitamin E rich foods in your daily diet? Vitamin E, while not a cure all, is still a vital element which your body needs to function. Including some almonds, hazelnuts, and Swiss chard in your daily diet is not too difficult. Not only will these foods help you obtain your required amount of vitamin E, they will provide many other vitamins and nutrients for both your body and brain.
Do you have questions about vitamin E? Have you, or a loved one, been diagnosed with a deficiency? Let me know in the comments!