Nutrient in the Spotlight: Vitamin E

A few weeks ago we talked about one of the B vitamins, thiamin. B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins, meaning that they don’t need any assistance to be absorbed.

This week’s nutrient is one of the fat-soluble vitamins, nutrients that need fat molecules to assist with absorption. The full list includes vitamins A, D, E, and K – this week we’ll discuss vitamin E.

Why do you need vitamin E?

Vitamin E, sometimes called alpha-tocopherol, is one of the primary antioxidants in the human body. Antioxidants work to prevent cellular damage by neutralizing free radicals. Through this function, vitamin E fights against all sorts of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

How much do you need?

It’s recommended that adults consume around 15 milligrams of this nutrient daily. The “upper limit” of consumption is around 1000 milligrams daily; intakes above this amount may cause toxicity symptoms, but this would be very difficult to do without heavy consumption of supplements. Most people don't need to take supplements for adequate intake of vitamin E.

Which foods contain vitamin E?

The best sources of vitamin E include vegetables oils (including olive, canola, and sunflower oil), nuts, seeds, leafy greens, wheat germ, egg yolks, and liver.

How might a vitamin E deficiency occur?

For the average person a deficiency in vitamin E is unlikely, but it can be caused by severe malnutrition, significant restriction of dietary fat, or fat malabsorption. Conditions like cystic fibrosis may contribute to fat malabsorption. A deficiency of vitamin E leads to red blood cell damage, as the cells break apart and spill their contents due to membrane breakdown. This is known as erythrocyte hemolysis. Chronic vitamin E deficiency can also cause neuromuscular impairment such as loss of coordination and reflexes.

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