Vitamin E Rich Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning we store this vitamin in our fat cells, and we also need fat for the proper absorption of this vitamin. Vitamin E is composed of a group of compounds called tocopherols, of which there are seven.
The seven forms of tocopherols found in nature are called: alpha, beta, delta, epsilon, eta, gamma, and zeta tocopherol (compliments of the Greek alphabet). The alpha tocopherol is the most potent form of vitamin E and has the greatest biological and nutritional value.
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, which means it prevents oxidation of substances in the body so therefore acts as a protector of our cells. An example of this is where vitamin E prevents the breaking down of a saturated fatty acid (like animal fats) into harmful substances.
Oxidation of fat normally results in the formation of ‘free radicals’ which are highly destructive molecules that can cause extensive damage to the body, including damage to our DNA as well as potentially creating blood clots.
Along with the B group vitamins and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) Vitamin E also helps to protect against oxidation in the digestive tract. Fats and oils naturally rich in vitamin E are less susceptible to rancidity, due to their inbuilt antioxidant nature, than those oils which have little or no vitamin E content, which is why you often see vitamin E added to some products containing fats and oils.
Vitamin E has the ability to combine with oxygen to prevent oxygen from forming toxic ‘peroxides’ (chemicals that react with our cells) which then leaves the blood cells more fully supplied with pure oxygen that is carried to the heart and other vital organs.
Vitamin E plays a vital role in cellular respiration (oxygen carrying) of all muscles, especially cardiac (heart) and skeletal muscles. Vitamin E then makes it possible for these muscles and their nerves to function with less oxygen, thereby increasing blood flow, endurance, and stamina. With vitamin E’s ability to create dilation of blood vessels, there is a fuller flow of blood to the heart.
Vitamin E is also a very effective anti-thrombin agent which prevents blood clots forming, thereby preventing heart attacks and strokes as well as venous thrombosis (blood clots in places like our legs and lungs). However, beware of taking too much vitamin E – more on this later.
Improper absorption of vitamin E, leading to a deficiency state, may be partially responsible for muscular problems such as muscular dystrophy and digestive problems such as peptic ulcers and cancer of the colon. Poor absorption can also impair the survival of red blood cells.
Vitamin E has been shown to be effective with burns, scars, skin ulcers and abrasions. It prevents and dissolves scar tissue, even old acne scarring and scarring of arterial walls caused by toxic substances. Free radicals cause ‘cross-linking’ which can cause wrinkling of the skin. The anti-oxidant effects of vitamin E can help prevent this, especially if used as a skin cream at the same time as additional supplementation.
Vitamin E has also been useful in the treatment of noncancerous fibrocystic breast tissue as well as relieving premenstrual breast tenderness. I remember using a vitamin E oil to rub on my tummy when I was pregnant to prevent stretch marks on my growing belly– it worked! I had two very large bellies (not at the same time) with no stretch marks to be found. 🙂
Benefits of vitamin E
Let’s look at the many virtues of this vitamin.
Healthy vascular system
Fats in our blood called cholesterol are necessary for the healthy maintenance of our hormones, nervous system and in fact all of the cells in our body. But when cholesterol is oxidised, this makes cholesterol stick to the walls of our arteries, creating potential blockages and subsequent health issues such as heart disease. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E can help to protect the cholesterol in our blood from this oxidation process.
If you are on cholesterol lowering medication, then caution is required with dosage, but healthy levels obtained from food is a great way to protect the vascular system.
Healthy immune system
We know that vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can protect the body from the damaging effects of oxidation from free radicals. Free radicals can break down healthy cells, which creates all sorts of inflammation and disease, so consuming vitamin E rich foods can help our immune system prevent disease and slow down the aging process by protecting us against the effects of free radicals.
Vitamin E is one of the co-factor vitamins needed for the healthy balance of our hormones so we can avoid symptoms like PMS, painful periods, anxiety, weight gain and changes in the skin, like hormonal acne. With well-balanced hormones, we can have more energy, a healthy regular cycle, and maintain our weight easier.
Vitamin E helps to speed up cell regeneration, so it can be used to treat acne, wrinkles, scars, and prevent and treat stretch marks, which all helps our skin look more radiant and youthful. Vitamin E helps to reduce inflammation with its antioxidant properties and strengthen capillary walls of the skin to improve moisture retention in the skin and elasticity, which means that vitamin E can act as a natural anti-aging factor.
Along with other antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin A (beta carotene) and zinc, vitamin E can help decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness.
The amount of Vitamin E will never be an issue if consumed from food or applied to the skin as a topical oil or cream, but when vitamin E is taken as a supplement, some people with certain health conditions can experience problems. These conditions include diabetes and heart disease because excessive vitamin E can increase the risk of haemorrhage, particularly in the brain (a type of stroke) especially if combined with blood thinning medications.
Doses exceeding only 300IU (135mg) per day from supplements can increase this risk. Other risk factors of taking too much vitamin E (which can increase if you are taking more than one supplement) may include the following:
- heart failure for those with diabetes
- increased risk of death from bleeds after a heart attack or stroke
- bleeding disorders becoming worse because of increased blood thinning
- increased chances that brain, lung and prostate cancer may grow more quickly or return
- increased risk of lung cancer growing where there may be some rogue cancer cells already present for smokers and even ex-smokers who take vitamin E. This was discovered in a study to use vitamin E to prevent lung cancer in smokers, but they found that instead, it increased the risk.
- increased bleeding during and after surgery if taking supplements at that time
- can increase risk of congenital heart defects if taken during pregnancy
Other more common symptoms (not as life threatening) can include:
- diarrhea, nausea & belly cramps
- fatigue & weakness
- blurred vision
- headaches that don’t pass easily
- easy bruising or bleeding under the skin
- topical vitamin E cream or oil can inflame some people’s skin and produce a rash, so check with a small amount to ensure you don’t have sensitivity
Vitamin E and medication interactions
It is not a good idea to use a blood thinning vitamin like vitamin E alongside blood thinning drugs like Aspirin, Warfarin or Ibuprofen otherwise the risk for bleeds will increase and then some of the above listed symptoms are at higher risk of occurring. Not to say that you can’t have any vitamin E, you need to have your dose prescribed and medically supervised.
Medications used to lower cholesterol can have a decreased effect if taken alongside a vitamin E supplement, especially if also taken with other anti-oxidants like selenium, vitamin C and beta-carotene (vitamin A).
It may sound like I’m saying terrible things about vitamin E and it should be avoided, but this is not the case. What I want to share with you is the importance of either getting your vitamins from your diet, or if you can benefit from a vitamin supplement like vitamin E, then please check with your doctor first (especially if you are taking any medication) and have the dose prescribed either by your doctor or highly qualified health professional. Do NOT self prescribe.
Vitamin E is an amazing vitamin, but caution must be observed if you have a health condition, or taking medications, or choosing higher doses than naturally contained in foods.
Vitamin E deficiencies are rare and not usually caused by lack of vitamin E in the diet but rather from poor digestion, an inflammatory gut issue such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or for those who have issues with fat absorption, such as liver or gall bladder problems, or lack of pancreatic enzymes. Other situations, such as those with cystic fibrosis, or those who have had a gastric bypass, all run the risk of having low vitamin E levels.
Symptoms of very low vitamin E can include impaired vision, impaired speech, and loss of muscle co-ordination. So when we talk about needing vitamin E, we are referring to the therapeutic value of higher doses for certain situations for short periods to support the body back into balance. Care needs to be taken when using vitamin E as a supplement rather than from food.
Following is the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin E. The amounts are expressed in milligrams. A milligram = 1,000th of a gram. I see the RDA more as a minimum requirement than a therapeutic level, but it is good to see just how much we need to maintain good health.
- 1 – 3yrs: need 6mg
- 4 – 8yrs: need 7mg
- 9 – 13yrs: need 11mg
- 14 years +: need 15mg
- Pregnant women: need 15mg
- Breastfeeding women: need 19mg
Tolerable upper intake levels of vitamin E
This is the level considered to be safe for treating a vitamin E deficiency or a condition that can be treated with the use of vitamin E, but it is important to discuss the dosage suitable for your needs with your health practitioner.
- 1 – 3yrs: up to 200mg
- 4 – 8yrs: up to 300mg
- 9 – 13yrs: up to 600mg
- 14 – 18yrs: up to 800mg
- 18 years +: up to 1,000mg
Because vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient, if you are taking a supplemental form of vitamin E, it is best with food with some form of fat.
Following are some foods rich in vitamin E, showing the weight of the food and the quantity of vitamin E in milligrams. You will notice that even the richest sources of vitamin E only have their levels in the 30’s (mg), and even if you have several different foods rich in vitamin E, you are extremely unlikely to be able to get the high dosages that supplements can provide.
Also, foods rich in vitamin E act very differently in the body compared to the synthetic concentrated forms of supplemental vitamin E.
- Sunflower seeds: 1 cup = 34mg
- Almonds: 1 cup = 33mg
- Hazelnuts: 1 cup = 20mg
- Cold pressed vegetable oil (e.g. sunflower oil): 1 Tbsp = 6mg
- Egg (medium): 1 = 4mg (the yolk contains the vitamin E)
- Leafy green vegetables (cooked): 1 cup = 4mg
- Mango (medium): 1 = 3mg
- Avocado (medium): 1 = 3mg
- Butternut Squash/pumpkin (cooked): I cup = 3mg
- Broccoli (cooked): 1 cup = 2.5mg
- Kiwi Fruit (medium): 1 = 1.2mg
- Tomato raw (medium): 1 = 1mg
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.