If you're setting out to lose weight, the first thing on your mind may likely be to cut out the fats and oils from your diet. This, however, might not be as wise as it first seems. As with most things, moderation might be a better option — cutting out fats could mean cutting out other essential nutrients. A recent study by Oregon State University (OSU) suggests that obese people with metabolic syndrome face an unfortunate twofold problem when it comes to keeping their vitamin E levels on track.
Put simply: fat generates oxidants that increase the risk of metabolic stress. Vitamin E, on the other hand — along with vitamin C and some other antioxidants — are natural defenses against the problem. However, millions of Americans — potentially more than 92 percent — don't get enough vitamin E in their diet. The level for some, the researchers say, can be around half the recommended amount. "Another concern is that, when people try to lose weight, often the first thing they do is limit their fat intake," says Maret Traber, of the College of Public Health and Human Science at OSU and principal investigator in the Linus Pauling Institute. "This may make sense if you are trying to reduce calories, but fat is the most common source of vitamin E in our diets, so that approach to weight loss can sometimes actually worsen a nutrient deficiency."
The problem is a tough one to take. Metabolic syndrome — a condition commonly associated with obesity — means more than the average levels of vitamin E is required because that extra weight and the associated problems it causes increase oxidative stress — at the same time those very same issues actually mean the effective use of vitamin E is reduced. As a result, say the experts at OSU, a large number of Americans may be "chronically deficient in vitamin E." This, they say, could compound the wide range of diseases known to be associated with metabolic syndrome, which include heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
The figures are worrying: metabolic syndrome affects more than one in three adults in the U.S. It is caused by a number of factors including obesity, physical inactivity and genetic factors, according to the American Heart Association. A diagnosis can be made when a patient displays three or more of the following symptoms:
High levels of vitamin E can be found in nuts, seeds and olive oil and because it is fat soluble, in theory, it should be available at increased levels in people who are overweight and eat large amounts of fatty foods, say the team, and therefore the research seems counterintuitive. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, however, found that even though vitamin E in the bloodstream may be high, in obese people it does not find its way into the tissues where it is most needed. "Vitamin E is associated with lipids, or the fats found in the blood, but it's mostly just a micronutrient that's going along for the ride," says Traber.
"What we found was that tissues of obese people are rejecting intake of some of these lipids because they already have enough fat," says Traber. "In the process they also reject the associated vitamin E. So even though the tissues are facing serious oxidative stress, the delivery of vitamin E to them is being impaired, and they are not getting enough of this important micronutrient."
A reasonable approach therefore, says Traber, even if attempting to lose weight, would be to aim for a balanced and healthy diet which is supplemented by a daily multivitamin that includes 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin E — that is, 15 milligrams per day. It's also important to include a little fat in the diet when taking a supplement, otherwise the fat-soluble vitamin — in the form found in most dietary supplements — will not be properly absorbed. Making sure you get all the right nutrients to all the right places might mean going against your instincts — but we've always been keen to spell out the benefits of good vitamin health.