Vitamin E Facts: Everything You Need to Know

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

Just like vitamins A, C and D, as well as every B vitamin, vitamin E is an important nutrient that provides numerous health benefits. It's also a nutrient that needs to be ingested every day for proper body functioning. One of the most unique characteristics of vitamin E is that it acts as an antioxidant. In this article, we'll cover the many health benefits associated with vitamin E and list which foods are good sources of this nutrient.

What Does Vitamin E Do?

Perhaps vitamin E's most important function is to act as an antioxidant. This means that vitamin E helps to destroy harmful compounds called free radicals which can cause damage to genetic material. Free radicals have also been linked to aging and other health problems, such as cancer and heart disease, so taking vitamin E can help to combat these conditions. Furthermore, antioxidants like vitamin E can prevent damage from pollutants and toxic chemicals.

Beyond its role as an antioxidant, vitamin E also encourages the proper formation of red blood cells and aid in the use of vitamin K. Additionally, there are several diseases and conditions that vitamin E may help to prevent. For example, people with higher levels of vitamin E have been found to have a lower risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and photodermatitis. However, it's important to keep in mind that these associations are not yet conclusive, and studies are still being conducted to determine whether taking vitamin E is a good preventative method for these conditions.

Food Sources of Vitamin E

Several foods are good sources of vitamin E, such as sweet potatoes, beets, mustard, turnips, avocados, asparagus, yams, eggs and liver. Several types of seeds and nuts are sources of vitamin E, such as sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts. Vegetable oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and cottonseed oil are all good sources of vitamin E, as well. However, by far the richest source of vitamin E is wheat germ. Many people purchase cereals and breads made with wheat germ. It can also be used while baking, especially with breads and cakes.

Side Effects

When you get vitamin E from natural food sources in the recommended amounts, side effects are very rare. However, taking vitamin E supplements may come with some minor side effects. For example, vitamin E may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you are also taking blood thinners like warfarin, clopidogrel or aspirin. Other medications may also have potential interactions when combined with vitamin E supplements. Be careful if you are taking antidepressants, as these medications could have a reduced effectiveness when taken with vitamin E. The same problem may occur when taking vitamin E with chemotherapy drugs, some beta-blockers and antipsychotic medications.

Deficiency Symptoms

Although many people are able to get a sufficient amount of vitamin E through their normal daily diet, it's not uncommon for people to have a slight vitamin E deficiency. This problem is generally not accompanied by any serious symptoms, and can be easily resolved by minor changes in diet or by adding vitamin E supplements.

Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient, there is a risk for a vitamin E deficiency in people who are unable to absorb fat properly. When a vitamin E deficiency occurs, it is accompanied by several tell-tale symptoms, including muscle weakness, impaired vision, an unsteady gait and abnormal eye movements. Over time, a chronic vitamin E deficiency may also lead to a loss of muscle mass or liver and kidney problems. For people who have trouble absorbing fat, there are water-soluble supplements of vitamins E available.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

As individuals advance in age, their daily dosage recommendations for vitamin E increase. From birth to the age of 6 months, infants should take 4 milligrams (mg) of vitamin E each day. From 7 to 12 months old, the recommendation for infants is 5 mg a day. From the ages of 1 to 3 years, children should take 6 mg of vitamin E a day; from ages 4 to 8 years, 7 mg a day; from ages 9 to 13 years, 11 mg a day; and from age 14 and on (including adults and seniors), 15 mg is the recommended daily dosage. For this standard amount, a healthy balanced diet is usually sufficient for getting the required amount of vitamin E.

There are certain conditions that may require a larger or smaller daily dosage of vitamin E. For example, women who are pregnant or breast feeding should take higher amounts of vitamin E daily according to their physician's suggestions. Other factors may affect the recommended amount as well, including age, gender and certain health conditions. Always consult your doctor before altering your intake of vitamin E from the recommended daily dosage for your age range.

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