The importance of vitamin E in a balanced diet is unquestionable given that its deficiency leads to neuromuscular problems, anemia, retinopathy and immune system disorders. Some studies have even shown that a lack of vitamin E may be responsible for male infertility.
Vitamin E's effects on human physiology have yet to be fully determined; however, studies have shown that it plays important roles in oxidation and neural protection. Most people's diets include sufficient levels of vitamin E, and supplementing above and beyond the recommended amounts (approximately 15 mg/day for a healthy adult) can actually be harmful since vitamin E acts as an anticoagulant, which may cause bleeding problems. Vitamin E has also not been shown to affect mortality, age-related macular degeneration or heart disease. Despite its neuro-protective effects, there is conflicting scientific evidence concerning vitamin E's effect on Alzheimer's disease, and it is therefore supplementation is not currently recommended.
Although vitamin supplementation is essential for those suffering from vitamin deficiency, the best way to take vitamins is through a properly balanced diet. Good sources of vitamin E include leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce and collard greens, and fruits such as mangoes, avocados and papayas. The best sources, however, are from oils such as wheat-germ oil (where 1 tablespoon provides 135% of the RDA for vitamin E), sunflower oil (40.6%) and almond oil (35.3%).
Nuts as a whole (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and pistachios) provide excellent natural ways to supplement a diet low in vitamin E. Those suffering from peanut allergies may also be unable to take advantage of this source, although highly refined peanut oils are able to remove the allergens, making them ideal for the majority of those allergic to peanuts.
It is important to note that there are various forms of vitamin E, each of which has varying effects on human physiology. The alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E (found in all of the above mentioned foods), however, is the only one that is currently accepted as meeting dietary needs.
Since most, if not all, sources of vitamin E require dietary fat for absorption, those individuals who are unable to absorb fat (such as those with liver disease, cystic fibrosis or stomach surgery) may be at significant risk for vitamin E deficiency.
Vitamin E forms an integral part of a balanced diet but must be taken with moderation. Consult an expert if you have any doubts about your intake or ability to absorb this crucial vitamin.
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