Don’t sleep on vitamin E. This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for a healthy and functioning body. Vitamin E has antioxidant qualities and also plays an important role in keeping your immune system strong.
Vitamin E is available in a whole bunch of foods that regularly appear on our dinner plates. A vitamin E deficiency is actually pretty rare — but not impossible.
Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency
Symptoms can vary but typically include:
- muscle weakness
- numbness and tingling
- difficulty walking
- a general feeling of un-wellness (yuck)
Vitamin E deficiency usually points to a potentially more serious underlying condition.
A vitamin E deficiency is rare. But these symptoms could be signs that it’s happening to you:
- Muscle pain or weakness. Vitamin E is an important part of the central nervous system. A deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage that leads to muscle weakness or pain.
- Feelings of numbness and tingling. This nerve and muscle damage can also cause a loss of feeling, especially in the arms and legs.
- Trouble with walking and coordination. Nerve and muscle damage can make coordination difficult. This can complicate basic functions, like walking.
- Vision problems. People who don’t get treatment for severe vitamin E deficiencies may experience a loss of vision over time.
- A weakened immune system. A lack of vitamin E may inhibit immune cells. Studies suggest that older adults have an increased need for vitamin E due to changes in the immune system that occur as we age.
So, what is vitamin E?
Vitamin E occurs naturally in a wide variety of foods, including:
- vegetable oils
- vegetables like spinach and broccoli
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds
- wheat germ
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. It has powerful antioxidant qualities that help protect cells from free radical damage (yay, antioxidants!).
It can also help strengthen your immune system.
Don’t run out and buy vitamin E supplements if you assume you’re deficient.
This deficiency is rare. So it’s really important to seek consultation with your doctor and get a diagnosis if you think you’re short on vitamin E.
That being said, certain people, such as those living with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and those with a rare disorder called abetalipoproteinemia are more at risk for developing a vitamin E deficiency.
How much vitamin E do you need every day?
Adults and children 14 years and older need 15 milligrams (mg) of vitamin E each day.
Children aged 14 years or younger do not need as much vitamin E.
- 1 to 3 years of age: 6 mg/day
- 4 to 8 years of age: 7 mg/day
- 9 to 13 years of age: 11 mg/day
Women who are breastfeeding should aim to consume 19 mg of vitamin E each day.
Speak to your doctor about the safety and risks of supplementing vitamin E. You can then consider supplementing if necessary.
Treating a vitamin E deficiency might be as easy as featuring more vitamin E-rich foods in your everyday diet.
How to get vitamin E from food
So many common foods provide a whole bunch of vitamin E. Most people get their vitamin E from their daily diet without needing to take supplements.
Some of the best sources of vitamin E are nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. Leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals also provide significant amounts.
Some food companies add vitamin E to items like fortified cereals and fruit juices. You can check product labels to find out if what you’re eating includes vitamin E.
The best food sources of vitamin E
Below are some of the best vitamin E-rich foods to include in your diet. This can help you prevent deficiency.
- wheat germ oil
- sunflower seeds
- vegetable oils (sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil)
- peanut butter
- fortified breakfast cereals
Supplementing vitamin E
You should only take vitamin E supplements after clearing them with your doctor.
If your doctor suggests supplementing vitamin E, be sure to buy from a reputable brand. Although vitamin E supplements are monitored by the FDA, they’re not as strictly regulated as pharmaceuticals, so supplements aren’t’ always safe and effective.
At the end of the day, eating vitamin-E-rich foods could be safer and more effective than taking a supplement.
However, some people, such as those with medical conditions that impact vitamin E absorption, may need a vitamin E supplement to maintain healthy levels. And if you’re deficient in vitamin E then you may require a high dose supplement as advised by your doctor.
Taking vitamin E supplements can interfere or react with other medications you might be taking.
- antiplatelet drugs
- chemotherapy drugs
- radiotherapy drugs
- cholesterol-lowering drugs
If a doctor suggests vitamin E supplementation, make sure you let them know about any current prescription medications you take.
The role of fat in absorption
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, like its buddies — vitamins A, D, and K. This means they dissolve in organic solvents, making them easier to absorb and transport throughout the body, just like fats.
The digestive tract requires fat to absorb vitamin E. Peeps with disorders that mess with fat absorption are more likely to develop vitamin E deficiency than those without.
Vitamin E includes eight naturally occurring fat-soluble nutrients called tocopherols.
Diseases that cause vitamin E deficiency
Vitamin E deficiencies often occur due to an underlying condition.
If you have one of these conditions, you should be on the lookout for this deficiency. Peeps who don’t yet have a diagnosis should speak to a doctor if they notice symptoms of vitamin E deficiency.
- chronic pancreatitis
- cystic fibrosis
- primary biliary cirrhosis
- Crohn’s disease
- short bowel syndrome
- celiac disease
- ataxia with vitamin E deficiency
Deficiency is also common in newborn and premature babies who have lower birth weights and less fat.
You should always contact your doctor if you think you experience any vitamin E deficiency symptoms.
This is especially important if you’ve been diagnosed with a condition above that increases your chances of a vitamin E deficiency.
You should always contact your doctor before taking a vitamin E supplement since taking one if you don’t need it can cause adverse effects and inflammation.
No one should consume too much vitamin E (or an excess of any fat-soluble vitamin, for that matter).
Consuming too much vitamin E from supplements can lead to abnormal bleeding. This bleeding can even increase your risk of a stroke or early death.
Two clinical trials found an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke in participants taking vitamin E supplements. Studies also suggest that vitamin E supplementation may increase the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men
So far, researchers have not found that eating food sources of vitamin E causes negative effects.
A vitamin E deficiency is rare and often only develops due to an underlying condition.
If you think you have a vitamin E deficiency, you should contact your doctor so you can work with them on a treatment plan.
You can usually get all of the vitamin E you need from natural food sources, such as vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, and greens like spinach and broccoli.
Vitamin E supplements can cause adverse effects and can react adversely with medication, so you should only take them after speaking with your doctor.