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Vitamin E is one of the main antioxidants in the body, which helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals (such as pollution, UV rays, or compounds formed by our bodies from the food we eat). It is essential for the nervous, cardiovascular, reproductive, musculoskeletal, and other systems to work properly. As an antioxidant, it can play a role in preventing diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, and even age-related macular degeneration.
Vitamin E Sources to Boost Your Intake
To get more vitamin E from your diet, load up on these foods:
- Nuts, especially almonds and hazelnuts
- Vegetable oils (from things like sunflower, safflower, soybean, and wheat germ)
- Seeds, like sunflower seeds
- Green leafy vegetables, like spinach and chard
Keep in mind that vitamin E is fat-soluble, so you’ll need to eat it or take it with some form of fat; otherwise, your body won’t absorb the vitamin E and it won’t get to where it’s needed. If you’re eating a leafy green salad, for example, add some nuts or a homemade salad dressing made with oil to increase the absorption of vitamin E.
If you prefer to take a supplement, look for a multivitamin or a single supplement that provides 15 mg of vitamin E, the daily recommended amount for adults.
When This Isn’t Enough
A vitamin E deficiency isn’t common in healthy people, but symptoms to look out for include a loss of feeling in the arms and legs, muscle weakness, and vision problems.
There is accumulating evidence that high levels of vitamin E circulating in the blood don’t necessarily mean that your body has enough vitamin E, or that it is getting to the tissues in the body where it is needed.
This is because numerous factors can affect the absorption of vitamin E, including whether you eat it with fat, whether you have excessively high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, or whether you have certain medical conditions.
Instead, a doctor will diagnose a vitamin E deficiency through a physical exam and analysis of symptoms.
Do You Need More Vitamin E Than Other People?
Common health issues may make it harder for your body to use vitamin E effectively and they may increase your need for getting more of this vitamin.
- Metabolic syndrome. People with metabolic syndrome (a collection of conditions including impaired blood sugar function, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and abdominal obesity) have lower levels of alpha-tocopherol (an important form of vitamin E) compared to controls. On top of this, people with metabolic syndrome seem to absorb less of the vitamin E they eat, which leads researchers to suggest that they actually require more vitamin E than normal.
- High cholesterol or triglycerides. Vitamin E circulates with lipids in the blood. When we have excessively high lipids, like cholesterol and triglycerides, vitamin E essentially gets stuck circulating in the bloodstream, unable to be distributed throughout the body. Read more about how high cholesterol and triglycerides might be stopping your from getting enough vitamin E here.
- People who are obese also likely need more vitamin E. This may be because vitamin E circulates in the body alongside lipids, and that the tissues of obese people won’t let the lipids in, or the vitamin E that is associated with them.
If you have one of these conditions that could be impairing your vitamin E absorption, consult with your doctor to check if your vitamin E levels are lower than recommended, and then determine how to best boost your vitamin E to the appropriate level.
Take Action With These Vitamin E Sources
To get your vitamin E levels where they need to be:
- Eat plenty of dietary sources of vitamin E, along with some healthy fat
- Consider a supplement
- Eat vitamin C-rich foods or take a vitamin C supplement
- Work with your physician if you have a medical condition that is reducing your vitamin E levels.