When you’re working out, you hear a lot of talk about proteins and amino acids. But when was the last time you heard someone at the gym raving about the benefits of antioxidants?
Although antioxidants often get overlooked by bodybuilders and others who want to boost their physical performance, these free-radical-fighting nutrients play an important role in our body’s ability to recover from a tough workout. That’s exactly why Vitamin E is a crucial, if often overlooked, nutrient for fitness enthusiasts.
Here’s what you need to know about Vitamin E’s benefits and how to spot if you have a deficiency in this essential nutrient.
Why our bodies need Vitamin E
Vitamin E is crucial to good health. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E helps the body counteract or detoxify the harmful effects of free radicals—unstable atoms that, when left unchecked, can wreak havoc on our cells and eventually lead to disease. These free radicals have a heyday after a tough workout. If there are too many of them in your body, it could prevent the activity of the growth hormone and insulin growth factor-1. Vitamin E can decrease the number of free radicals in your body, speeding up your recovery and helping maximize your workout.
Vitamin E also strengthens the immune system, promotes healthy eyes and skin, and has been shown to slow the signs of aging. Although you might have seen studies touting Vitamin E as a cure for cancer and heart disease, it’s important to note that these qualities have not yet been proven. But the muscle-boosting benefits of Vitamin E alone should be more than enough to convince you of its importance.
Signs of a Vitamin E deficiency
Unless you have an underlying health condition, it’s more of a rarity than the norm to develop a Vitamin E deficiency. However, it’s important to know these warning signs and contact your doctor if you’re noticing them in your body.
- Coordination problems
- Weakness or muscle pain
- Vision changes (including retinopathy, which is most noticeable as blurry vision)
- Overall feeling of illness
- Loss of deep tendon reflexes
A Vitamin E deficiency can also cause anemia. Anemia, a reduction in red blood cells, can kick-start its own host of problems—especially for athletes. When you’re working out, anemia causes you to get fatigued faster because your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen. Early symptoms of anemia include tiredness, feeling light-headed or short of breath, irritability, headaches, cognitive issues and retinopathy.
Oxidative stress is also caused by a Vitamin E deficiency. The condition can lead to many pathophysiological conditions in the body.
In some cases, Vitamin E deficiency can be the result of an underlying condition that prevents your body from being able to adequately absorb fat-soluble nutrients like Vitamin E. These conditions include chronic pancreatitis, cholestasis and cystic fibrosis. People who have an extremely low-fat diet are also at an increased risk for Vitamin E deficiency.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, gene mutations, cancers, and heart and inflammatory diseases all have their own sets of symptoms. There’s some evidence that these can be traced back to a Vitamin E deficiency.
How to get more Vitamin E
Since our bodies can only go two-to-six weeks without Vitamin E intake, it’s vital to consume Vitamin E regularly. The recommended dietary allowance of the nutrient is 8mg per day for women and 10mg per day for men.
Vitamin E is found naturally in a variety of foods and is a popular dietary supplement. Sunflower seeds, spinach, almonds, safflower oil, beets, red peppers, pumpkin, asparagus, swordfish, mango, avocado and peanut butter are just a few Vitamin E-filled foods.
The demand for Vitamin E supplements is exploding, with an estimated market value of $820.18 million in 2017. Supplements are a viable option specifically for people who are Vitamin E deficient. However, it’s important to note that preliminary research on these supplements has shown risks associated with taking the vitamin in high doses. Vitamin E supplements can also pose a risk for pregnant women.
Keep in mind that supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA. With such a huge variety of supplements available, it’s important to conduct thorough research to find the best option for your needs and only buy supplements from trusted manufacturers.
With Vitamin E, it’s best to consult your doctor before beginning to take the supplement. Whereas many supplements have been proven safe and effective through science, the jury is still out on the risks versus rewards of taking Vitamin E supplements. The American Heart Association recommends getting your daily Vitamin E intake through a balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead.