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Lack of vitamin E is widespread

 – especially among those with metabolic syndrome, an early stage of type-2 diabetes

Lack of vitamin E is widespreadMillions of people who are overweight suffer from blood sugar imbalances and metabolic syndrome – often without being aware of it. A study shows that people with metabolic syndrome are severely vitamin E-deficient. This poses a serious threat to their health, as vitamin E is important for the liver, the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, and the body’s ability to protect its cells against oxidative stress and carcinogenic substances. The study, which is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reveals that normal measurements of a person’s vitamin E status are misleading.

In the United States, it is believed that most people are unable to get enough vitamin E from the diet. The same is bound to be the case in Europe. The problem is our large consumption of refined raw materials that are processed to such a degree that it depletes their content of vitamin E and other nutrients. Another problem is our fear of fat, which has certainly also contributed to a reduced intake of vitamin E, a nutrient that is primarily bound to lipids. Good sources of the nutrient are plant oils, nuts, almonds, kernels, seeds, whole-grain, and avocado.

The study was conducted by scientists at Oregon State University and Ohio State University. Earlier research has found that vitamin E is less bioavailable to people with metabolic syndrome, and these individuals have difficulty with utilizing vitamin E from the diet. In the new study, the researchers wanted to investigate how much vitamin E the body needs, and it was apparent that people with metabolic syndrome needed more of the nutrient. According to professor Maret Traber, people with metabolic syndrome need around 30-50 percent more vitamin E than healthy individuals do.

Did you know that a vitamin E deficiency increases the risk of impaired fertility, atherosclerosis, blood clots, and Alzheimer’s disease?

Overweight and metabolic syndrome are spreading like a bushfire

Nearly one in three adults and one in four children worldwide is overweight, and the problem is getting worse. Many overweight people are insulin resistant, which means that their cellular uptake of sugar (glucose) from the blood is impaired. Even when they have just eaten, they experience fatigue, hunger, and other symptoms, simply because the cells do not get enough energy. At the same time, excess calories are removed from the bloodstream and stored as fat. These problems easily turn into a vicious cycle.
Insulin resistance is a part of metabolic syndrome, which is also characterized by too much abdominal fat, an apple-shaped body, high blood pressure, and elevated blood lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides). In addition, there is inflammation that is not felt directly, but which sets the stage for atherosclerosis, cancer, and other diseases. Metabolic syndrome is an early stage of type-2 diabetes, both of which are conditions with enormous human and economic costs.

A better way to measure vitamin E levels

For the first time ever, the researchers could reveal that normal measurements of vitamin E levels in the blood are unprecise and erroneous and fail to provide useful information about the supply of vitamin E to different tissues. However, by means of a special lab test, the researchers are now able to measure how much vitamin E the body excretes in relation to the amount that is consumed. This is useful, as the body excretes any vitamin E that it does not need.
The lab tests clearly showed that people with metabolic syndrome retain 30-50 percent more vitamin E than healthy individuals do, indicating that they have an increased need for the nutrient.

Vitamin E is attracted by blood lipids and may be missing other places in the body

When the researchers measured vitamin E levels using traditional methods, those with metabolic syndrome had the same levels of the nutrient as healthy individuals did. According to the scientists, this is because vitamin E is attracted to cholesterol and fat, both of which are found in increased amounts in those with metabolic syndrome. Therefore, it does not give an accurate picture when you measure blood levels of vitamin E, as different tissues in the body may easily have too little of the nutrient, and this is exactly the case in metabolic syndrome.

The study revealed that the current methods used to measure vitamin E levels are misleading with reference to the body’s status and actual need for the nutrient.                         

Metabolic syndrome and oxidative stress require more antioxidants

The study also supports earlier conclusions about people with metabolic syndrome having higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation that are caused by insulin resistance and elevated insulin levels. Therefore, people with metabolic syndrome need more antioxidants like vitamin E.

Vitamin E, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and metabolic syndrome

Research shows that vitamin E has the potential to improve the liver’s histology and the undesirable formation of connective tissue that is seen with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This is a condition characterized by elevated blood levels of fat in people who consume very little or no alcohol at all. Signs of fatty liver are found in 15-45% of the population – depending on sex, age, and country. In many cases, these signs are a result of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. A major cause of fatty liver disease is that the liver gets flooded with carbohydrate (fructose in particular) and alcohol, which is also a type of carbohydrate. This steps up the production of fat in the liver and in the body.

The only treatment that helps against metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a blood sugar-stabilizing diet and weight loss. Vitamin E supplementation is also worth considering as a way of supporting the liver and keeping the body properly supplied with this important nutrient.

Natural or synthetic vitamin E

It is generally best to get natural vitamin E from the diet or from supplements. Synthetic vitamin E that is derived from chemical processes has toxic effects when ingested in high doses for longer periods. In fact, supplements of synthetic vitamin E have not shown positive effects on health, on the contrary.
Synthetic vitamin E is also known as dl-alpha-tocopherol and is only absorbed around 30-50 percent as effectively as natural vitamin E.
Natural vitamin E, or d-alpha-tocopherol, is the best source for supplement use. Vitamin E supplements should always be taken with a fat-containing diet in order to ensure proper absorption in the digestive system (vitamin E is lipid-soluble).

Increased need for vitamin E

People with metabolic syndrome should pay attention to getting enough vitamin E. The nutrient is excreted with bile, and symptoms of overdosing are rare. Prolonged use of supplements containing 250-500 mg of vitamin E may lead to dizziness, headache, fatigue, and blurry vision.


Scott W Leonard et al. Metabolic syndrome increases dietary α-tocopherol requirements as assessed using urinary and plasma vitamin E catabolites: a double-blind, crossover clinical trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2017

Traber MG. Mechanisms for the Prevention of Vitamin E Excess. J Lipid Res 2013. E-pub ahead of print.

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