Welcome to Diabetes Prevention Thursdays! Today, let’s talk about how diabetics can use vitamin E to ward off viruses. Watching what you eat is an extremely important part of daily life. You have to carefully monitor your blood glucose levels and keep them balanced, otherwise you risk having levels that are too high or too low, which can lead to some serious health problems.
Diabetics are at higher risk when it comes to contracting viruses, so it’s important that they boost their immune system while still keeping their blood sugar in check. One vitamin you’ll need to help boost your immune system is vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a really good antioxidant. Antioxidants essentially protect your cells from things that might cause cancer, such as UV radiation or second hand smoke. The body also needs vitamin E to boost its immune system so that it can fight off invading bacteria and viruses. It helps to widen blood vessels and keep blood from clotting within them. In addition, cells use vitamin E to interact with each other and to carry out many important functions.
How much vitamin E do I need?
The amount of vitamin E you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts are listed below in milligrams (mg).
|Life Stage||Recommended Amount|
|Birth to 6 months||4 mg|
|Infants 7–12 months||5 mg|
|Children 1–3 years||6 mg|
|Children 4–8 years||7 mg|
|Children 9–13 years||11 mg|
|Teens 14–18 years||15 mg|
|Pregnant teens and women||15 mg|
|Breastfeeding teens and women||19 mg|
What foods provide vitamin E?
Vitamin E is found naturally in foods and is added to some fortified foods. You can get recommended amounts of vitamin E by eating a variety of foods including the following:
- Vegetable oils like wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils are among the best sources of vitamin E. Corn and soybean oils also provide some vitamin E.
- Nuts (such as peanuts, hazelnuts, and, especially, almonds) and seeds (like sunflower seeds) are also among the best sources of vitamin E.
- Green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, provide some vitamin E.
- Food companies add vitamin E to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, margarines and spreads, and other foods. To find out which ones have vitamin E, check the product labels.
In order to improve your vitamin E intake, you need to start eating certain foods, but if you’re diabetic, you need to be choosing ones that won’t interfere with your blood sugar levels.
For this, a great option to consider is walnuts. Walnuts give you a nice vitamin E boost that can help your immune system, but they’re low in carbs. One cup of them only contains about 4 grams of carbs.
They’re mostly comprised of protein and healthy fats. You want to be sure you’re getting regular raw walnuts, though, because some can come with additional flavors on top of them.
Having some walnuts with your lunch or dinner can be a great way to get some additional immune boosting benefits while still staying well within your limits as a diabetic, allowing you to stay healthy in more ways than one.
What kinds of vitamin E dietary supplements are available?
Vitamin E supplements come in different amounts and forms. Two main things to consider when choosing a vitamin E supplement are:
- The amount of vitamin E: Most once-daily multivitamin-mineral supplements provide about 13.5 mg of vitamin E, whereas vitamin E-only supplements commonly contain 67 mg or more. The doses in most vitamin E-only supplements are much higher than the recommended amounts. Some people take large doses because they believe or hope that doing so will keep them healthy or lower their risk of certain diseases.
- The form of vitamin E: Although vitamin E sounds like a single substance, it is actually the name of eight related compounds in food, including alpha-tocopherol. Each form has a different potency, or level of activity in the body.
Vitamin E from natural sources is commonly listed as ”d-alpha-tocopherol” on food packaging and supplement labels. Synthetic (laboratory-made) vitamin E is commonly listed as ”dl-alpha-tocopherol.” The natural form is more potent; 1 mg vitamin E = 1 mg d-alpha-tocopherol (natural vitamin E) = 2 mg dl-alpha-tocopherol (synthetic vitamin E).
Some food and dietary supplement labels still list vitamin E in International Units (IUs) rather than mg. 1 IU of the natural form of vitamin E is equivalent to 0.67 mg. 1 IU of the synthetic form of vitamin E is equivalent to 0.45 mg.
Some vitamin E supplements provide other forms of the vitamin, such as gamma-tocopherol, tocotrienols, and mixed tocopherols. Scientists do not know if any of these forms are superior to alpha-tocopherol in supplements.
Am I getting enough vitamin E?
The diets of most Americans provide less than the recommended amounts of vitamin E. Nevertheless, healthy people rarely show any clear signs that they are not getting enough vitamin E (see next question for information on the signs of vitamin E deficiency).
What happens if I don’t get enough vitamin E?
Vitamin E deficiency is very rare in healthy people. It is almost always linked to certain diseases in which fat is not properly digested or absorbed. Examples include Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and certain rare genetic diseases such as abetalipoproteinemia and ataxia with vitamin E deficiency (AVED). Vitamin E needs some fat for the digestive system to absorb it.
Vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage that results in loss of feeling in the arms and legs, loss of body movement control, muscle weakness, and vision problems. Another sign of deficiency is a weakened immune system.
Can vitamin E be harmful?
Eating vitamin E in foods is not risky or harmful.
In supplement form, however, high doses of vitamin E might increase the risk of bleeding (by reducing the blood’s ability to form clots after a cut or injury) and of serious bleeding in the brain (known as hemorrhagic stroke). Because of this risk, the upper limit for adults is 1,100 mg/day for supplements of either natural or synthetic vitamin E. This is equal to 1,500 IU/day for natural vitamin E supplements and 1,100 IU/day for synthetic vitamin E supplements. The upper limits for children are lower than those for adults. Some research suggests that taking vitamin E supplements even below these upper limits might cause harm. In one study, for example, men who took 400 IU (180 mg) of synthetic vitamin E each day for several years had an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Are there any interactions with vitamin E that I should know about?
Vitamin E dietary supplements can interact or interfere with certain medicines that you take. Here are some examples:
- Vitamin E can increase the risk of bleeding in people taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medicines, such as warfarin (Coumadin®).
- In one study, vitamin E plus other antioxidants (such as vitamin C, selenium, and beta-carotene) reduced the heart-protective effects of two drugs taken in combination (a statin and niacin) to affect blood-cholesterol levels.
- Taking antioxidant supplements while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer could alter the effectiveness of these treatments.
Tell your doctor, pharmacist, and other healthcare providers about any dietary supplements and medicines you take. They can tell you if those dietary supplements might interact or interfere with your prescription or over-the-counter medicines, or if the medicines might interfere with how your body absorbs, uses, or breaks down nutrients.
Vitamin E and healthful eating
People should get most of their nutrients from food, advises the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Foods contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and other substances that benefit health. In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may provide nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less-than-recommended amounts.
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I wanted to talk about this topic because it is absolutely possible to prevent and even reverse Type 2 Diabetes (but you cannot reverse Type 1). Yes, it’s possible! and emerging studies looking at lifestyle medicine and prevention support this! But I always tell my patients that you must be dedicated and diligent in adopting a healthy lifestyle to get the best results. You can create certain behaviors and practices that will not only enrich your life, but that you can pass on to your family, friends, and community, to help break the cycle of this chronic disease so that you can leave a legacy of health to your loved ones.
I use lifestyle medicine as the first line of treatment, before medications, to treat lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Lifestyle-related chronic diseases include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and some cancers, just to name a few. Lifestyle practices, such as eating a whole-food plant-based diet and regular physical activity, can help you improve your blood sugar levels, maybe reverse type 2 diabetes. In certain cases, these approaches may even outperform pharmaceutical therapy. But I always tell my patients that conventional medications may be appropriate at this time to prevent catastrophic illness, but over time, you can work to make the necessary lifestyle changes to possibly reduce and/or eliminate medications. Please remember to always consult your physician for your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any decisions whatsoever.
Tools For Diabetes Prevention and Monitoring
Blood Sugar Monitoring
As you know, I always stress the importance of taking control of your health. Monitoring your blood sugar levels is one of the best ways to do this. To do this, a single drop of blood is collected with disposable lancets and placed on a disposable test strip, which you insert into a home blood-sugar monitoring device, called a glucometer.
The common times for checking your blood sugar are when you first wake up (fasting), before a meal, 2 hours after a meal, and at bedtime; however, you should check your blood sugar as many times a day as your health care team suggests.
Monitoring your blood sugar level provides you and your doctors with important knowledge about how food, activity, medication, stress, and other elements might affect your blood sugar levels. This data will assist you and your doctor in developing a therapy plan that is suited to your demands.
Since weight management is very important in combatting chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend that you be mindful of your weight and its fluctuations, and that you monitor your weight AT LEAST on a weekly basis. I recommend a scale that includes a body composition monitor (*this scale cannot be used with a pacemaker or other implanted devices).
Physical activity (or exercise) can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several chronic diseases like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few. Physical activity actually improves insulin sensitivity. Physical activity can improve your mood, boost your immune system, and even help you maintain a healthy weight.
I often recommend yoga and resistance training for physical activity, but as you are aware, there are plenty of forms of “movement” that you can do! But for the basics, especially if you’re just getting started, yoga and resistance training are where I would start.
Yoga can be a great way to improve your strength and flexibility, manage your stress, improve your heart health, and lose weight! I recommend using a grounded yoga mat to connect yourself with the earth and reduce inflammation.
Resistance training is the mainstay for overall health. It not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, it also increases muscle size and strength. Here are some basic dumbbells/free weights that I recommend to everyone.
Remember, living a healthy lifestyle including eating a whole foods plant-based diet and regular physical activity are the best ways to prevent diabetes. Please talk with your doctor about any complementary health approaches, including supplements, you use. Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
PS. I am always asked what tools and resources I recommend to help you reach YOUR health goals. Here is the ever-growing, always updated list for you.
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