Vitamin E, like all other vitamins and nutrients, plays various roles in our health, and of course, during pregnancy. However Vitamin E has had some questionable press, such as one study that was carried out in Holland and made its way into the Daily Mail. The NHS picked this up also. The NHS feature about this study and Vitamin E, in general, starts with the following statement:
“New research has shown that “Vitamin E ‘can increase the risk of heart defects in babies,’” says the Daily Mail. The newspaper warns that consuming as little as three-quarters of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E while pregnant can lead to a nine-fold increase the risk of a heart problem at birth.”
Further into the NHS feature, they offer this practical advice:
“Despite limitations to this research, the possible association between high vitamin E intake and congenital heart defects is an important one requiring further research. UK guidance currently gives no recommendations on taking vitamin E during pregnancy. At present, it may be sensible for pregnant women to not be overly concerned by vitamin E naturally occurring in foods and continue to eat a healthy, balanced diet but to consider avoiding vitamin E supplements.”
Another study published in September 2014, in the International Journal – Advances in Nutrition – estimates that approximately 90% of Americans are not currently consuming enough of vitamin E as part of their diet. The study also discusses potential poor outcomes in pregnancy, when there is a deficiency of vitamin E, for both the mother and the infant.
We appreciate that the studies may seem confusing, but this is partially because of the limitations to the research, and as the NHS has pointed out, further research is required in this area. Therefore, it is best to follow the NHS guidelines of eating a healthy, balanced diet, which will enable you to intake some Vitamin E naturally, without over-doing it. On this feature, you can check out the food pyramid from Ireland’s HSE
The Importance of Vitamin E in Pregnancy and Beyond
Adequate amounts of vitamin E for pregnant women, the elderly and very young children are important. Ideally women who hope to become pregnant should also ensure that they are taking the required amount of vitamin E. If there is a deficiency during pregnancy, and also in the baby’s first years of life, there can be a lifelong impact on the baby’s health.
The Role of Vitamin E in Pregnancy and Generally
- Vitamin E (Tocopherol) has a variety of important functions. It protects the body’s tissues against free radicals, as an antioxidant. Free radicals can harm your organs, tissues and cells.
- Vitamin E is also important in reproduction. This is because it helps to produce prostaglandins, which are chemicals whose function are to reduce the amount of prolactin that you produce. Prolactin is a hormone which increases at the time that you are ovulating, and it can also be blamed to some extent for the emotional and physical symptoms of PMT. Vitamin E can aid your body to maintain balanced levels of prolactin which in turn helps your female reproductive system to be balanced and functioning well.
- It maintains structure of facts (lipids) in your body.
- The cells in your body use vitamin E so that they can interact with each other, which enables them to carry out a variety of important functions.
- This vitamin is also vital for a strong immune system, to protect you against bacteria and viruses.
- It also plays an important role in the formation of your red blood cells.
- Additionally it helps your body to be able to use vitamin K.
- Vitamin E helps your blood vessels to widen, which in turn keeps blood from clotting inside the vessels.
Vitamin E Side Effects
Before going any further let’s discuss and clear up the issues about potential adverse vitamin E side effects. When you eat vitamin E naturally in your food, strictly speaking and with the limited research to date, it should not be harmful or risky. However if you are taking vitamin E in supplement form, high doses do carry some risks. In supplement form very high levels of this vitamin can potentially increase the chance of birth defects. Additionally the supplement form of vitamin E may increase your risk of bleeding, plus the risk of serious bleeding in your brain.
In Ireland the recommended vitamin E intake is 8mg per day for women and 10mg per day for men. The RDA increases for pregnant women during the second half of pregnancy to 10mg per day, and for the first six months of lactation the RDA increases to 11mg per day.
Sources of Vitamin E
- Eat your greens – green leafy vegetables are a very good source of vitamins E. Include spinach, cabbage, broccoli and other leafy greens in your diet.
- Nuts are also a good source of this vitamin, so you can include peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts.
- Vegetable oils such as sunflower, wheat germ, safflower, soya bean and corn oils are also good sources.
- Seeds also contain vitamin E, so for example you can eat sunflower seeds, or include them as part of a seed mix in your porridge, or sprinkle of sunflower seeds into a salad.
- You can also find this vitamin in some fortified foods. You can check the information and food packaging, such as breakfast cereals, margarine, spreads and fruit juices.
Next we’re going to look at the findings of another study which was published in September 2014.
Vitamin E Inadequacy in Humans: Causes and Consequences
Vitamin E for a healthy baby
The lead author of this study, Maret G. Traber, is a national expert on vitamin E in the United States, and also a Professor at Oregon State University – in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. This study was a review of multiple studies. One of its most significant findings was the importance of vitamin E during fetal development. However not only this but also the importance of vitamin E during the first years of your baby’s life.
1. Vitamin E Is Vital For Baby’s Brain Health
In embryos, vitamin E is absolutely critical to the early development of an embryo’s nervous system. Part of the reason for this is because one of its functions is to protect the Omega-3 fatty acids functioning, in particular DHA. DHA is crucial for brain health.
2. Eyes and head
The other areas which are especially sensitive during the early period of your embryo’s nervous system development, are her eyes and head. The deficiency in vitamin E could affect the development of these areas, where as the correct amounts will help healthy development.
3. Poor outcomes
A lack of this vitamin can result in poor outcomes in pregnancy for both you and your infant.
The deficiency of vitamin E can lead to anaemia.
5. Risk of increased infections
Vitamin E deficiency is also linked with the risk of increased infections.
6. Stunted growth
Inadequate vitamin E can also result in stunted growth.
7. Improved cognitive function
One of the studies that was included in this review of multiple studies showed that when there was a higher concentration of vitamin E at birth, this can be associated with a superior cognitive function at the age of two years old.
8. Neurological disorders & muscle deterioration
If there is a deficiency of vitamin E, particularly in children, this can result in neurological disorders, possible muscle deterioration, and in some cases cardiomyopathy.
9. Later in life
Later in life, although vitamin E supplements have not been proven to prevent Alzheimers, it has been shown that they can slow down its progression. Also a study of older people who had a lifelong dietary pattern that included high levels of vitamins E, B, C and D – showed a correlation with higher cognitive functions and a larger brain size. In fact, there was actually a correlation between an adequate intake of vitamin E and prevention of dementia in later life.
What the study recommends
The lead author of this study highly recommends the importance of vitamin E during your entire lifetime. However the most vital period is what is termed the 1000 today window which actually begins at conception. This is because vitamin E is important for neurological development. In conclusion, once you are aware of what constitutes a balanced, healthy diet and you make this part of your lifestyle, then you should naturally intake a sufficient amount of vitamin E.
Other good resources on this subject:
All articles on the blog and website are intended as information only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.