Only 1/5 global population meet 'ideal' vitamin E levels: Review

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Vitamin E deficiency is prevalent in countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal. ©iStock
Vitamin E deficiency is prevalent in countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal. ©iStock

Related tags Nutrition

Only a fifth of the world’s population are receiving the recommended vitamin E intake, a review has concluded, placing a heightened risk for conditions affecting the immune system, cognitive function and cardiovascular health.

Writing in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, ​scientists concluded that 21% of the populations studied reached a serum α-tocopherol (vitamin E) concentration of above 30 µmol/L.

This value is the vitamin E threshold that several studies suggest has definable effects on human health in multiple areas.

The study, which received financial support from Dutch supplement giant DSM, concludes that more work needs to be done to ensure vitamin E intakes reach the required standard set out by governments worldwide.

Modern dietary changes in developed, as well as developing, countries were thought to be a contributing factor. The review suggested that vitamin E could be increased by eating more foods rich in the vitamin. 

“Vitamin E status can indeed be explained by varying diets and nutrient availability,”​ said Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer, senior vice president for nutrition science and advocacy at DSM and one of the authors of the review.

“With the trend towards processed foods, changes in diet are also a contributing factor."

"The digestive tract requires fat to absorb vitamin E. This means that low-fat diets may provide insufficient amounts of vitamin E, unless people make careful food choices to increase intake of nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.”

Vitamin E dietary reference values (DRVs) as set out by The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 

  • 13 mg/day for men
  • 11 mg/day for women
  • 9 mg/day for boys and girls aged 3 to <10 years  
  • 13 mg/day for boys and 11 mg for girls aged 10 to <18 years

Study details

The study, carried out by Mannheim Institute of Public Health, Social and Preventive Medicine in Germany, looked at published literature that described vitamin E intake levels and serum concentrations between 2000 and 2012.

In total, 176 articles referring to 132 single studies were included. The scientists then applied a recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 15 mg/day and an estimated average requirement (EAR) of 12 mg per day to all populations with a minimum age of 14 years.

The team discovered that 82% and 61% of mean and median data points were below the RDA and the EAR, respectively.

Serum concentrations of vitamin E worldwide found that 13% of the included data points were below the functional deficiency threshold concentration of 12 µmol/L. This result was found mostly for newborns and children.

eggs variety
Rich sources of vitamin E include eggs and vegetables. ©iStock

“A further consequence of current lifestyles is that premature babies of very low birth weight (less than 1,500 grams) are at risk of inadequate vitamin E status,”​ said Eggersdorfer, who is also a professor for healthy ageing at Groningen University.

“Vitamin E supplementation in these infants might reduce the risk of some complications, such as those affecting the immune system and the retina."

Dietary intake surveys have become the primary choice in assessing the nutrient status of populations.

However, they have limitations due to potential under reporting, quality of food intake and the types of database used.

Vitamin E renaissance

neuro brain cognitive
Vitamin E plays a central role in neurological function. ©iStock

A recent review​concluded that the population of the UK and the US found over 75% of the population did not meet minimum vitamin E levels.

The vitamin is enjoying something of a research resurgence of late having been overshadowed by other vitamins and their purported health benefits. There is the question of whether lack of research in vitamin E may have contributed to its deficiency seen in the population.

“It is true that we did not see a lot of projects at universities on the role of vitamin E in the first decade of this century and funding organisations did not support many projects related to vitamin E,”​ said Eggersdorfer.

“However, in recent years, there has been a renaissance in vitamin E and its role in health with papers, studies and engagements from a number of university groups all over the world.

"Only last year, a research group led by Professor Keith West (Johns-Hopkins University) reported that vitamin E deficiency is a major issue​ in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal."

He also cited a human study from the Linus Pauling Institute at the Oregon State University in the US, which demonstrated that people who are overweight have higher vitamin E requirements.

The study concluded that results based on the reported dietary intake levels and serum concentrations suggested that the vitamin E status of the included population groups could be improved.

“Possible measures include encouragement of consumption of vitamin E-rich food sources (e. g. vegetables, dairy products, eggs), adequate fortification of food products (e. g. vegetable oils), and supplementation.”

Source: The International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research

Published online ahead of print, DOI 10.1024/0300-9831/a000281

“A Systematic Review of Global Alpha-Tocopherol Status as Assessed by Nutritional Intake Levels and Blood Serum Concentrations.”

Authors: Szabolcs Péter, Angelika Friedel, Franz Roos, Adrian Wyss, Manfred Eggersdorfer, Kristina Hoffmann, and Peter Weber.

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