Warning: Your levels of this essential nutrient are probably too low–even if you’re taking typical supplements!

According to another new study, most Americans don’t get sufficient vitamin E in their diet. And that’s a big problem for your brain. In fact, as I reported yesterday, vitamin E plays a big role in brain health.

We now have enough evidence to ask if low vitamin E intake is actually a big part of the Alzheimer’s epidemic. And if it is, things may get worse before they get better.

For this study, researchers used data from the huge National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from the years 2003 to 2006.  (We used earlier phases of the US NHANES I and II in analyses we conducted at the National Institutes of Health 30 years ago. The data was critically important for learning more about the basic nutritional needs and status of men, women and children.)

The researchers compared vitamin E levels. They considered 30 micromoles per liter of alpha-tocopherol a sufficient level of vitamin E for adults.

Overall, a staggering percent of young adults don’t get enough vitamin E. In fact, according to the new study, 87 percent of 20-to-30-year-olds and 68 percent of 31-to-50 year-olds don’t maintain sufficient levels of alpha-tocopherol (a major form of vitamin E) in their blood. It’s a little better for older adults, but far from perfect

Nutritional supplementation was also a factor.

Researchers found vitamin E levels were lower in people who did not take dietary supplements. And among those who didn’t take supplements, 93 percent of 20-to-30 year-olds and 81 percent of men and women older than 31 years were insufficient.

People who took nutritional supplements had significantly lower rates of insufficiency. But still, they need to do better. Much better. In fact, 54 percent of men and women ages 31 to 50 years, and 29 percent of adults older than 50 who did take supplements still showed insufficient levels of this critical nutrient.

So–across the board–vitamin E insufficiency is a massive problem.

Vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant, particularly in combination with minerals like selenium. Research shows it lowers the risk of cancers and reverses dementia, as I reported again yesterday.

The European Union even allows vitamin makers to make the health claim that vitamin E “contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.”

But clearly, standard supplementation isn’t enough. You need to find ways to get more vitamin E-rich foods in your diet.

As always, start by eating foods rich in vitamin E, such as green, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and certain plant oils. Artificially fortified cereals also provide vitamin E.

Of course, the senior author of the new study made the ritual request for more research. And in the case of vitamin E, that call for more research may well be warranted.

Vitamin E comes in eight different biochemical forms. Plus, we don’t know enough of how it interacts with other nutrients. And we are just starting to scratch the surface about its amazing benefits to the brain.

As a fat-soluble vitamin, I expect to find vitamin E in meat and fish. But those foods don’t seem to make it onto the “approved” list of dietary sources. I have never understood why.

In fact, I will never forget a study we did 30 years ago that involved measuring vitamin levels, including vitamin E, in the blood of healthy, young men (myself included, as a volunteer at the time). We conducted the study at NIH-USDA, along with students from the University of Maryland.

Some other volunteers and I had very high vitamin E levels. In fact, they were “off the charts” according to the standards of the time. It was during the crab season in Maryland. And I frequently enjoyed partaking in Maryland crabs, as a new resident of the Chesapeake Bay area at the time. I have always attributed my “off the charts” vitamin E levels to the plentiful, good seafood I eat.

In any case, we still have a lot to learn about vitamin E’s role in the human diet, nutrition and metabolism. But that may be changing in light of these new findings about the nutrient’s dramatic brain and health benefits and its woeful insufficiency in the general population.

While we continue to wait for more progress, you can get going yourself. Take a supplement daily that contains 200 to 400 mg vitamin E. That amount is much higher than the currently recommended dietary intake of 15 mg/day…for reasons that should now appear obvious to everyone, even the experts who came up with these guidelines.