At least one in five adults has some combination of high blood pressure, raised triglycerides, low ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol, high fasting blood glucose level and abdominal obesity. You just need three of these common factors for your doctor to diagnose metabolic syndrome.
Having metabolic syndrome has been described as a ‘cardiovascular time-bomb’ as those affected are five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those without, as well as having double the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
It now seems that having metabolic syndrome increases your need for vitamin E, too. If your doctor has diagnosed you with metabolic syndrome, your vitamin E levels are probably through the floor.
Why does metabolic syndrome lower vitamin E levels?
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition only involved a small number of people (10 men and women with metabolic syndrome plus similar, age-matched, healthy adults) but those with metabolic syndrome absorbed significantly less vitamin E than the controls after drinking 15mg vitamin E in a glass of milk (non-fat, reduced fat or whole milk given on different occasions).
This is an important finding, as vitamin E is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant. It helps to suppress the widespread, low-grade inflammation that contributes to organ damage and the circulatory complications associated with raised blood pressure, glucose intolerance and central obesity.
The researchers believe that the resulting lower blood levels of vitamin E in people with metabolic syndrome is due to lower production of the lipoproteins needed for its absorption in the small intestines, or for its release from the liver into the circulation.
Although weight loss can reverse metabolic syndrome – especially if you follow a low carbohydrate or low-GI diet – cutting back on food to lose weight will put you at greater risk of not getting enough vitamin E from your food.
Vitamin E is rapidly lost by exposure to air, processing and freezing – frozen foods can lose up to 70% of their vitamin E content within 14 days.
Fresh raw or lightly steamed foods are therefore the best sources.
If you decide to take a vitamin E supplement, select a product containing natural source vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol); synthetic vitamin E (dl-alpha tocopherol) has between 36% and 50% less biological strength due to the different symmetries of the molecules which are mirror images, like left and right hand gloves.
The suggested upper safe level for long-term use from supplements is 540mg (800 IU) vitamin E per day, but you don’t need anywhere near that amount. A sensible dose for someone with metabolic syndrome is 134mg (200 IU) to 268mg (400 IU) per day.
These higher doses should ideally be taken together with other antioxidants – especially vitamin C which is needed to regenerate vitamin E after it has performed its antioxidant function.
Co-enzyme Q10 also complements the action of vitamin E as a powerful antioxidant within cell membranes.
NB When vitamin E is shown in International Units (IU), 1 IU = 0.67 mg alpha-tocopherol equivalents or conversely: 1mg = 1.5 IU
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