E is for Eyes: Vitamin E, That Is
Vitamin E is a valuable antioxidant that does many beneficial things for the body. Not only is it important for hair, skin and nails, it may play a role in reducing the advancement of macular degeneration, a very serious, progressive eye disease. Studies have shown that there is 25% less risk of developing the advanced stages of this disease when taking vitamin E. In addition, vitamin E is also thought to help decrease the risk of developing cataracts, and studies have linked it to a reduced risk and slower progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, while vitamin E can be very beneficial, there are also some risks associated with its use that you should be aware of.
Food sources of vitamin E
Food sources are always the best way to get our vitamins, minerals and other nutrients and for vitamin E include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Peanut butter
- Spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, collard greens
- Orange bell peppers
- Oils: olive, wheat germ, sunflower, safflower, soybean, canola, peanut and flax seed
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of daily vitamin E varies by age:
- Children 1-3 years: 6 milligrams (mg)
- Children 4-8 years: 7 milligrams (mg)
- Children 9-13 years: 11 milligrams (mg)
- Children and adults 14 and older: 15 milligrams (mg)
- During lactation: 19 milligrams (mg)
Why supplements are helpful, but inferior
If you are not getting enough vitamin E from food sources (most of us do not), and you rely purely on supplementation, you are not getting the full spectrum of benefits from this antioxidant powerhouse. Vitamin E is not a single compound but rather rather exists in eight different forms. The supplements most commonly found on shelves only contain d-alpha tocopherol, while food sources, such as nuts and seeds have differing levels of each forms. Ideally, you should get your vitamin E from a variety of food sources each day to make sure you get a good mix of forms for optimal health.
Selenium and vitamin E
Our body typically relies on a series of steps or team work to get the actions that it needs done; we rely on a whole set of mechanical and chemical processes to digest food for instance. To help the body to absorb vitamin E, we need selenium. Major food sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, yeast and oysters. Other sources for selenium include whole grain wheat flour, sardines, white tuna, clams and turkey breast.
Signs of vitamin E deficiency
Vitamin E deficiency is rare in the United States and other developed nations, and is usually the result of a genetic or digestive disorder which prevents proper absorption or processing of the vitamin. Vitamin E deficiency is sometimes also seen in people on extremely low fat diets. Symptoms of deficiency include pain, tingling or loss of sensation in the extremities (peripheral neuropathy); other neurological defects; hemolytic anemia; muscle weakness and retinal degeneration.
Risks associated with vitamin E
Excessive amounts of vitamin E can inhibit the blood's ability to clot and may lead to internal bleeding, hemorrhagic stroke or seeping from external wounds. If you are at risk for bleeding disorders or are taking any medication that thins the blood, you should not take vitamin E supplements without first consulting your doctor or eye care professional. If you are taking vitamin E supplements, you should not smoke or use aspirin because both could further increase the risk of serious bleeding. Vitamin E may also cause an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers.
Other side effects of vitamin E overdose include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, dizziness, fatigue, headache, weakness and blurred vision.
Conflicting reports about vitamin E and its safety
While it is agreed in most studies that some supplementation of vitamin E is necessary to get adequate levels for prevention of eye-related diseases and other conditions, there are some studies that suggest that large doses of vitamin E are not only toxic but increase the risk of dying from “all causes.”
Speak with your doctor before beginning any supplement regimen, especially if you are thinking of taking singular vitamins rather than (or in addition to) a standard multivitamin. Never take megadoses of any vitamin without first getting advice from a professional. Your doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons of various multivitamins and supplements so you can make an informed decision about what is right for your body.