The road to mainstream acceptance has proven to be a long and hard one for vitamins and supplements. Even in recent years, they were maligned as useless and unnecessary. In some ways, this accusation is half true.
Unfortunately, many store-bought vitamins are ineffectual products—they’re made with inferior, synthetic vitamin precursors, contain all sorts of fillers (some of which are even toxic), and are often very difficult for the body to absorb (which can mean you’re just peeing out all the money you spend on vitamins). These products deserve to be called useless.
This doesn’t mean that vitamins are unnecessary, though, but only that consumers need to be careful about selecting worthwhile products. Sadly, the “useless vitamin paradigm” has led most people to swear them off entirely, using “scientific evidence” to support their lifestyle choice.
The result is what researchers refer to as the silent epidemic of vitamin deficiency. A huge majority of Americans are vitamin-deficient—and now that scientists are learning the true magnitude of this issue, vitamin deficiency is finally starting to get the attention it deserves.
Progress happens in small steps, though. By now, you’ve probably heard all about vitamin D deficiency. You may even be aware of some of the lesser known (but still very dangerous) deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, magnesium, iodine, and sulfur. If not, be sure to check out those articles!
Some deficiencies, though, despite the widespread and deleterious health effects they cause, are barely even on the radar. One example is vitamin E deficiency.
How this deficiency could be destroying your health
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that helps your body fight free radicals (the byproduct of oxidative stress). Because of the constant onslaught of free radicals that our bodies are made to endure (due to environmental toxins, inflammatory and contaminated foods, and daily stress), keeping antioxidant levels optimized is critical to preventing disease and chronic illness.
For this reason, vitamin E deficiency dramatically increases your risk of many diseases, including immune dysfunction, neurological degeneration (including Alzheimer’s disease), infertility and other reproductive issues, and heart disease.
While researchers still debate whether or not vitamin E can help ward off disease for those already at risk, most agree that there’s a strong connection between long-term free radical accumulation and degenerative illnesses.
Another frightening fact about which most scientists agree is that at least 75% of all Americans are deficient in vitamin E; some researchers even believe that 90% or higher is a more accurate number.
This near-universal deficiency isn’t just a product of the public’s refusal to take supplements—poor diet and processed food are primarily to blame. The staples of the American diet are woefully low in vitamin E (as well as every other nutrient, for that matter).
Vitamin E is also difficult for the body to absorb in the absence of fat (because it’s a fat-soluble vitamin), so the lingering dominance of low-fat diets in America only adds to the problem (despite the rise of high-fat diets like paleo, adopters of which still comprise a small percentage of the population).
A grave problem with a simple solution
Luckily, for all the trouble that vitamin deficiency can cause, the solution is simple: eat plenty of nutrient-dense whole foods, and if necessary, take a naturally-derived vitamin E supplement.
The RDA for vitamin E is 15 milligrams per day—a level that isn’t hard to maintain with a healthy diet. Leafy greens are packed with vitamin E, as are sunflower seeds (a serving of which contains 7.4 mg) and almonds (a serving of which contains 6.8 mg). These nuts and seeds, as well as olives and avocados, provide both ample vitamin E and the healthy fat that your body needs to absorb it.
If you’ve been eating healthily for an extended period of time and still think you may be deficient in vitamin E, get your blood serum levels tested. If you’re suffering from metabolic syndrome or diabetes, heart arrhythmias, signs of dementia, muscle loss, muscle weakness, an unsteady gait, vision problems, liver problems, or kidney problems, you should get your vitamin E levels tested as soon as possible.
If it turns out that you need to supplement (or if you’d like to do so just to be safe), make sure to choose a natural (rather than a synthetic) supplement. Natural vitamin E (as it occurs in food) contains eight compounds—four tocopherols and four tocotrienols—and synthetic supplements will not contain all of them.
Some companies try to hide the synthetic nature of their product—but you’ll know it’s synthetic if the tocopherol ingredients begin with a “dl” instead of a “d” (i.e. look for “d-alpha-tocopherol,” not dl-alpha-tocopherol”). Once you’ve found the right product, remember to take it with a healthy fat like coconut oil.
Vitamin deficiency doesn’t need to be the looming health crisis it’s often made out to be, as long as we take the time to deal with it. Eat plenty of the nutrient-dense foods listed above, ditch the processed and packaged foods, and take a natural, balanced vitamin E supplement, and you won’t have to worry about being a statistic in this silent epidemic.