Vitamin E Supplementation in Pregnancy
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as a powerful antioxidant.
Why You Need It during Pregnancy
As an antioxidant, vitamin E is important for protecting body fat stores and fatty cell membranes from damage – including the essential fatty acids that make up 20 per cent of the weight of your baby’s developing brain. It strengthens muscle fibres and may help to prevent miscarriage and make labour easier. Vitamin E is easily transported across the placenta, but premature infants are often born without adequate vitamin E reserves. As a result, their red blood cell membranes are unusually fragile, leading to a haemolytic anaemia and neonatal jaundice.
Severe vitamin E deficiency during pregnancy causes fetal weakness and poor development of the heart, brain, lung and kidneys. Developmental difficulties usually follow. It forms part f the antioxidant mechanism that is vital for protecting the brain from damage due to exposure to the metabolic chemicals and free radicals produced during the rapid developmental process in the womb. It may provide some protection against cerebral palsy. High doses of vitamin E are known to reduce the severity of eye damage (retrolental fibroplasia) due to oxygen treatment in very premature babies.
In general, the more polyunsaturated fats a person eats, the more vitamin E she needs, as polyunsaturated fats are prone to rapid oxidation and rancidity. Vitamin E also boosts immunity and improves skin suppleness and healing.
Vitamin E given at a dose of 300 mg per day seems to reduce the risk of complications associated with uterine fibroids during pregnancy. Vitamin E supplements during pregnancy may decrease the risk of the offspring developing a brain tumour during childhood by 65 per cent.
How Much You Need
The EC RDA is 10 mg per day. Many experts now believe a daily intake of at least 40 to 50 mg vitamin E is needed to provide good antioxidant protection. This means taking supplements – which should ideally be natural source vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol), not synthetic dl-alphatocopherol, which is less biologically active. Taking extra vitamin E during pregnancy (such as 67 mg equivalent to 100IU) seems reasonable and will help to keep your skin in good condition, possibly even reducing the risk of stretch marks.
Good Dietary Sources
- vegetable oils – of which wheatgerm oil is the richest
- wholemeal cereals
- oily fish
Vitamin E is unstable when frozen – up to 80 per cent of the vitamin E content is destroyed. Heating destroys around 30 per cent vitamin E content. Fresh raw foods, and supplements, are therefore the best sources.