Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that it requires fat for maximum absorption. Any excess is stored in your liver. It primarily functions as an antioxidant, protecting your cells from free radicals and decreasing your risk of heart disease and cancer. It also supports immune health. While vitamin E deficiency is rare, it can occur.
Most Americans consume less than the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin E, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Inadequate intakes of vitamin E can cause peripheral neuropathy, poor muscle coordination, muscle weakness, retinopathy and an impaired immune system. These symptoms, however, are most commonly seen in people with fat malabsorption, such as cystic fibrosis or Crohn's disease. Premature infants with a low birth weight are also at risk of vitamin E deficiency, which increases their risk of infection.
To prevent deficiencies, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has established recommended dietary allowances. The recommendations are based on serum levels of vitamin E shown to protect cells from free radicals. Recommendations vary, depending on your age. Infants aged 0 to 6 months require 4 milligrams of vitamin E a day; at 7 to 12 months, they need 5 milligrams. Children 1 to 3 years old need 6 milligrams of vitamin E a day, with that amount increasing to 7 milligrams for 4-to-8-year-olds and 11 milligrams for kids aged 9 to 13. Everyone 14 years and older needs 15 milligrams of vitamin E a day.
You can find vitamin E in a number of foods, but nuts, seeds and oils are the richest sources. One tablespoon of wheat germ contains 20 milligrams of vitamin E, meeting more than 100 percent of your recommended dietary allowance. A 1-ounce serving of sunflower seeds contains 7.4 milligrams , and an ounce of almonds has 6.8 milligrams. Safflower oil contains 4.6 milligrams of vitamin E per tablespoon. Some vegetables also contain small amounts of vitamin E. A 1/2-cup serving of cooked spinach contains 1.9 milligrams and the same serving of cooked broccoli has 1.2 milligrams.
While it is important to get enough vitamin E in your diet to protect your cells from oxidation, mega-dosing on supplements can be dangerous, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, so stay within the recommended guidelines. Supplementing your diet with vitamin E has not been shown to lower your risk of either cancer or heart disease.
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