Vitamin E and Your Immune System

Vitamin E and Your Immune System

This blog is part 2 in my Nutrients for Immune Function Series on nutrition and its impact on immune function. If you missed reading the previous Cancer Bites blog What Foods Boost My Immune System?  you can read it now.

nutrients for immune function series

This content is based on information hosted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), called Cancer Prevention Through Immunomodulation: Does Diet Play a Role? It’s a webinar which you can listen too for free, but it’s pretty technical, which is why I created these blog posts so that you can receive some key take-aways that are easy to understand and implement.

What Does Vitamin E Do?

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. It supports immune function but its effect is not consistent. For example, elderly subjects given vitamin E supplementation will show an improvement in immune function and reduced respiratory infections. But not everyone experiences this response.

Why doesn’t everyone benefit from vitamin E supplements? 

There are two reasons that could account for this inconsistent effect. First, not everyone is deficient in vitamin E. People who will show an improvement in immune function with vitamin E supplementation are those who are low in vitamin E. Second, there is a gene-nutrition relationship with vitamin E.

Why Do Genes Matter for Vitamin E?

TNFα (Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha) can be used as an indicator of inflammation in your body. It is a cell signaling protein (cytokine) and one of its primary roles is to regulate immune cells.

TNFα has its own genes. The gene can vary by the allele that it contains – either AA, GG or AG. As it turns out, the A allele (AA or AG types) will have higher TNFα levels or in other words, more inflammation. When people who have either AA or AG alleles on their TNFα receive vitamin E supplement, they benefit from the vitamin E by a greater reduction in inflammation.

Another important point that Simin Nikbin Meydani, the scientist who presented the vitamin E data, recommends taking note of is that only the elderly benefited from the vitamin E supplementation. She is also quick to point out that vitamin E deficiency in the general public is rare. However, but vitamin E deficiency is increased in populations with fat malabsorption, which would include people with Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis or chronic diarrhea. To complete this circle of thought…those who do have a vitamin E deficiency have impaired immune function.

Should I Take a Vitamin E Supplement?

The National Institute of Health states that “evidence to date is insufficient to support taking vitamin E to prevent cancer. In fact, daily use of large-dose vitamin E supplements (400 IU) may increase the risk of prostate cancer.”

But, if you suspect you are deficient in vitamin E, consult with your physician. You may consider taking 200 IU per day (the amount shown to have the best immune system response). This is equivalent to 134 mg of vitamin E in it’s natural form.

Most importantly though, everyone should include food sources of vitamin E in your diet every day. You should aim for 15 mg per day, which is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults. This chart from the National Institute of Health shows you some of the dietary sources of vitamin E.

What Are The Food Sources of Vitamin E?

Food Sources of Vitamin E

Tips To Including Vitamin-E Rich Foods

  • Add some almonds to your afternoon snack or almond butter to your toast
  • Make home-made hazelnut spread using my recipe Jean’s Chocolate Hazelnut Spread.
  • Of the 5 vegetable oils on this list (wheat germ, safflower, sunflower, corn and soybean oils) I recommend either sunflower or safflower oil, BUT make the label says “high oleic”. This is very important as high oleic versions are anti-inflammatory. You should definitely pay attending to anti-inflammatory foods including oils and you can read more about that in my blog Which Vegetable Oil Should I Choose?
  • Despite being a source of vitamin E, I don’t recommend corn, wheat germ, or soybean oils as they have a high level of omega-6 fatty acid which is inflammatory and reducing inflammation is important
  • Broccoli is a vegetable you should include at least once a week. And don’t throw out the stems, save them and make my Broccoli Slaw with Pistachios and Cranberries

Do you want to keep learning about nutrients and immune function? Read this Cancer Bites blog which address the questions Do Low Vitamin B6 Levels Harm My Immune System?