Those of us attempting to get our nutrients from food alone will very likely end up deficient in a lot of micronutrients. Part of this is because we don’t eat like we should, and part of it is because the soil just doesn’t have the micronutrients it once did. C’est la vie.

In general, my solution to this is the following: eat like this; if organic food is available and affordable, buy it; and take a good multivitamin.

Vitamin E: Chronically Deficient in Our Youth

But sometimes looking at symptoms of individual deficiencies can be useful to reinforce the concept of a multi—and some people might have a higher need for a particular nutrient than a blanket one-size-fits-all multivitamin dose. So on that note, I’ll highlight Vitamin E… because this study found that 90% of 20-somethings and 70% of 30-somethings are deficient in it.

That’s probably due in large part to a crappy diet, let’s be honest. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, (unprocessed) oils, wheat germ (not plain white Wonder Bread), and avocados. So if you’re living on a diet of Papa John’s and Mountain Dew, you’re likely to miss it. But here are some of the reasons why that matters.

What Vitamin E Does For You

  • Antioxidant. It’s one of a constellation of nutrients that help to quench free radicals. And as we all know by now, oxidative damage is implicated in the majority of Western diseases—like heart disease, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s.
  • Immune Support. It actually helps to restore NK (Natural Killer) cells: those cells in the immune system that go around looking for rogue cells to gobble them up.
  • Anti-inflammatory. Deficiency in Vitamin E is associated with higher levels of inflammatory cytokines.
  • Improves allergies. Adequate Vitamin E can lower the IgE immunoglobulins, associated with hypersensitivity allergic reactions.
  • Protects against blood clots. This wouldn’t be a great thing going into surgery, nor for someone who already has a hard time clotting. But for those who are at risk for clots, it might be a good adjunctive treatment. Do of course make sure that you check with your doctor for any interactions with medications you might be on.
  • Neuroprotective. True Vitamin E deficiency can lead to neurological symptoms such as gait disturbances and poor reflexes.

What Too Much Vitamin E Looks Like

Don’t just go out and take a bunch of it without paying attention, though. The therapeutic range generally starts at 200 IU and goes no higher than 1600 IU, and this may be far too high for many people. Overdose symptoms include fatigue, headache, poor wound healing, increased bleeding, and muscle weakness.

The Upshot:

It is possible to get tested for individual nutrient levels, to see what is high and what is low. I don’t run this routinely, because again, most of the time a good diet and a multivitamin can take care of it. But I would make sure you’re taking a good multivitamin with at minimum of the RDA of Vitamin E (22 IU for an adult), and get tested if you think you might be low.