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Are You Getting Enough Vitamin E?
The diets of most Americans provide less than the recommended amounts of vitamin E. Sad, but true.
Vitamin E is found naturally in foods and is added to some fortified foods. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient found in many foods. In the body, it acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we eat into energy. People are also exposed to free radicals in the environment from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet light from the sun.
You can get recommended amounts of vitamin E by eating:
- Vegetable oils like wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils are among the best sources of vitamin E. Corn and soybean oils also provide some vitamin E.
- Nuts (such as peanuts, hazelnuts, and, especially, almonds) and seeds (like sunflower seeds) are also among the best sources of vitamin E.
- Green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, provide some vitamin E.
Here are two considerations when choosing a vitamin E supplement:
- The amount of vitamin E: Most once-daily multivitamin-mineral supplements provide about 30 IU of vitamin E, whereas vitamin E-only supplements usually contain 100 to 1,000 IU per pill. The doses in vitamin E-only supplements are much higher than the recommended amounts.
- The form of vitamin E: Although vitamin E sounds like a single substance, it is actually the name of eight related compounds in food, including alpha-tocopherol. Each form has a different potency, or level of activity in the body.
Vitamin E from natural (food) sources is listed as “d-alpha-tocopherol” on food packaging and supplement labels. Synthetic (laboratory-made) vitamin E is listed as “dl-alpha-tocopherol.” The natural form is more potent. For example, 100 IU of natural vitamin E is equal to about 150 IU of the synthetic form.
Vitamin E deficiency is very rare in healthy people. It is almost always linked to certain diseases where fat is not properly digested or absorbed. Examples include Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and certain rare genetic diseases such as abetalipoproteinemia and ataxia with vitamin E deficiency (AVED). Vitamin E needs some fat for the digestive system to absorb it.
Vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage that results in loss of feeling in the arms and legs, loss of body movement control, muscle weakness, and vision problems. Another sign of deficiency is a weakened immune system.
Lastly, know that some people use vitamin E for treating and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels including hardening of the arteries, heart attack, chest pain, leg pain due to blocked arteries, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Content for this article provided by the National Institutes of Health.