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Vitamins and supplements

Looking for info on the benefits of vitamin E? What to know before taking the supplement

America's obsession with low-fat diets has contributed to otherwise healthy people being deficient in some healthy fats. These fats are necessary for strong immunity, healthy brain function, hormone balance and antioxidant power. 

Research shows that vitamin E is one such nutrient that a whopping 88.5% of Americans aren't getting enough of naturally. That's especially worrisome considering some controversy exists in the medical community regarding the safety of supplementing vitamin E. 

Though concerning levels of vitamin E deficiencies are rare in people who eat a healthy diet, they are more common among people who avoid healthy fats, those with digestive disorders and in people who can't absorb fat properly such as individuals suffering from pancreatitis, celiac disease or cystic fibrosis. 

What is vitamin E good for?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that exists in several forms and has many health benefits including improved immune, skin and eye health. It's also a powerful antioxidant "and may protect your cells from the effects of free radicals, which may play a role in contributing to heart disease and cancer," says Lisa Young, PhD, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and author of "Finally Full, Finally Slim."

Vitamin E also plays an important role in the body's immune system "in keeping blood vessels working at their best," says Kate Zeratsky, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

Josh Redd, NMD, the founder of RedRiver Health and Wellness and author of "The Truth About Low Thyroid," says that vitamin E plays a part "in helping patients with autoimmune disorders by dampening autoimmune expression and regulating inflammation." 

And while there is still much that remains unknown about other vitamin-E related health benefits, some research suggests the nutrient may also help preserve brain health against cognitive decline and dementia, and may reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

"There also seems to be some improvement in the pain associated with menstruation in some women," adds Zeratsky.

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What are the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency?

Signs of vitamin E deficiency include:

  • impaired vision
  • ataxia (loss of bodily control)
  • diminished immune function
  • and nerve pain or damage. 

Are you supposed to take vitamin E every day?

Though you should be able to get all the vitamin E you need naturally from a healthy diet, some people choose to supplement the nutrient through a pill or multivitamin. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements recommends for anyone 14 years and older, including pregnant women, to get only 15 milligrams of the nutrient daily. Nursing mothers should get 19 milligrams. 

Unlike most nutrients, however, vitamin E supplementation "should be discussed with your health care provider as some studies suggest certain conditions and doses may have worse outcomes," cautions Zeratsky.

Indeed, Sarah Booth, PhD, center director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, says there is "considerable controversy regarding supplement vitamin E use," due to some studies that have connected very high rates of vitamin E supplementation with prostate cancer or increased risk of early death. "The data are very inconsistent, however," Booth explains. "In general, there is little evidence for increased mortality risk when vitamin E supplements are taken by healthy individuals." 

When supplementing, check the label for the safest form of the nutrient. "Find a vitamin E supplement that contains d-alpha tocopherol and one that is not synthesized but instead derived from plants," recommends Redd.  

Booth also recommends the alpha tocopherol form of vitamin E and says one can get plenty of that type naturally from a well-rounded diet. The most abundant natural source of the nutrient is wheatgerm oil (found in some cereals), followed by sunflower seeds, vegetable oils, peanut butter, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and fruits and vegetables such as asparagus, spinach, broccoli, kiwi, mangoes and tomatoes. Booth adds: "Vitamin E consumed in the diet is considered safe."

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