Science Update

Vitamin E is an essential nutrient but how important is it?

There has been controversy regarding the need for vitamin E and how much we really need.  A recent study recommends that adequate amounts of vitamin E are especially critical for infants pregnant women and the elderly.

Vitamin E is one of the most difficult vitamins to obtain through diet. It is estimated that only a small percent of Americans consume enough dietary vitamin E to meet the recommended daily allowance which is typically much lower than optimal amounts.

On the other hand some experts have raised unnecessary alarms about excessive vitamin E intake when most people obtain insufficient amounts in their diet.

Many people think that vitamin E deficiency never occurs yet it is very common both in the United States and around the world. Some of the results of insufficient intake are not very noticeable such as its impact on the nervous system and brain development or general resistance to infection.

Great dietary sources of vitamin E include spinach wheat germ and sunflower oil as well as nuts and seeds.

In a review of multiple studies published in Advances in Nutrition researchers outlined some of the recent findings about vitamin E. The two most important findings are:

  • Vitamin E is critical during fetal development and in the first years of life. Because vitamin E is necessary for proper neurologic and brain development it is especially critical for all children from infancy to age two as well as pregnant women and nursing women.
  • There is a correlation between adequate intake and dementia later in life.  This explains why vitamin E is critical for the elderly population. 

Additional findings from these studies include:

  • Low vitamin E is associated with increased risk of infection anemia stunted growth and poor outcomes during pregnancy.
  • A vitamin E deficiency especially in children can cause neurological disorders muscle deterioration and even cardiomyopathy.
  • Vitamin E is essential in the early development of the nervous system.
  • Higher vitamin E concentrations at birth were associated with improved cognitive function in two-year-old children.
  • A lifelong dietary intake of higher levels of vitamins C D E and B complex were associated with a larger brain size and increased cognitive function.
  • Vitamin E protects critical fatty acids such as DHA and people with the highest DHA concentrations had a 47% reduction in the risk of developing all-cause dementia.

While vitamin E is important all throughout our lives proper intake through diet and supplementation appears to be of utmost importance for our very young as well as our elderly population. 

Source: Maret Traber. Vitamin E Inadequacy in Humans: Causes and Consequences. Advances in Nutrition September 2014