A short time ago, I once again found myself low on iron. I realized that the culprit was my excessive vitamin E intake. Getting these two nutrients as close to a one-to-one balance as possible has greatly improved my well-being and my intake of both of these nutrients.

When I was low in vitamin E back in March of this year, I thought it was due to starting a vitamin D supplement and trying to get enough vitamin A to match. I thought the combination of these two vitamins being consumed in greater quantities might be causing a vitamin E deficiency. However, it’s likely it had another cause, excessive iron. Before I realized vitamin D was the problem, I was trying other foods to see what would make me feel better. I often rely on cream of rice to increase my iron intake. A serving has 70% of the RDA. I thought I’d felt better after having a bowl of it but started feeling worse again a short time later. Thinking my iron had really bottomed out, I went to the drug store to buy a bottle of iron tablets. I decided to hold them and wait until the morning to take them. However, during the night, I woke up feeling even worse. I decided to go ahead and take one. When that didn’t help, I decided to try a vitamin D tablet, which I fortunately still had on hand, and noticed feeling better after that. The extra iron seemed to be causing a few side effects but nothing too severe. I struggled to get going on the vitamin D supplement, finally realizing I needed to focus on vitamin A in my diet and let the supplement take care of the vitamin D I needed. I was consuming too many D-fortified foods, so I cut most of those out. Other than the occasional serving of fish, eggs, fortified milk products, and nutrition shakes, I got hardly any vitamin D from food. Soon after, I realized that my vitamin E had dropped when I started drinking a nutrition shake that had 100% of the RDA of vitamin E in it. I did some reading and research that allowed me to discover that iron and vitamin E can oppose each other, but in the end, I thought it was the vitamin D increase that caused me to need vitamin E, especially since several days after I’d taken the iron supplement, I would still fall short on vitamin E and would drink fortified beverages as a quick and low-calorie source of vitamin E to feel better. The beverages helped. I began working to increase vitamin E in my diet to keep its consumption on par with that of the vitamin A and vitamin D. It didn’t take long for me to write off the iron tablet as the cause of my vitamin E problems, although I suspected it highly in the beginning. What I realized later, though, is that my diet itself might have been unbalanced between vitamin E and iron in favor of iron back in those days, as I would often combine meat with legumes, which more often than not consisted of more iron than vitamin E. That may have been the reason it was difficult for me to keep up my vitamin E, not the vitamin D supplement.

Over time, after increasing my intake of vitamin E, I noticed that my endurance during workouts was slipping, especially during my treadmill workouts. Workouts that seemed to go relatively smoothly for me in the past had become quite a bit harder. I would become out-of-breath more quickly. After or even during really fast segments, I found myself holding on to the sides to take a break and catch my breath, something I would very rarely do in the past. One of the treadmill workouts I thought was easier than the others actually gave me a stomachache afterwards. I thought it might be due to the fact I was no longer on the supplement and thyroid medication regimen I was on previously. When I finally went back up to my 50 mcg dosage of levothyroxine, I thought that might be the answer to my endurance issues. However, they persisted. I could do two and a half minutes at a speed of seven miles per hour on my treadmill in one of the workouts, but one morning, when I was doing a workout with such a segment that was not even that long, I was out of breath and struggling before the end. I was clueless as to the reason. The following morning, after a tough strength workout, I noticed that I had breakthrough bleeding. It was more than what I was used to seeing after a workout. This really bothered me. I went to bed that night feeling horrible. Suspecting it was an allergic reaction, I took some Benadryl and Zantac and went to sleep. I woke up during the night feeling the exact same, so it wasn’t an allergic reaction. I began going through my mind about the food I’d been eating. I really couldn’t see how zinc or copper could have gotten out of balance that day. I’d eaten enough vitamin A to balance out my vitamin D supplement, and I very rarely have problems with this balance. It has been the easiest to implement by far. I should have gotten enough vitamin E. The breakthrough bleeding made me consider another source of the problem, iron. What if I was becoming deficient due to the blood loss? I decided to try a bowl of cream of rice, and I could tell after a while that it was helping. I couldn’t believe it and was scared because I had no idea why my iron would be that low. I stayed home the next day and made an appointment with my doctor. She drew several vials of blood to check several different things, but she mainly suspected that I could be anemic. The results of the tests came back normal.

While I was home the day I stayed out to see my doctor, I did a lot of reading and research. Thinking back to what I’d read before about vitamin E and iron, I decided to visit that research again. I began to think that adding all the extra vitamin E through fortified beverages and oils was causing me not to take in enough iron. I took in more vitamin E through these sources because they would not mess with my copper and zinc balance. At first, I thought I just needed to watch my consumption of these and rely on more sources of vitamin E that contained some iron. I still thought I needed to keep my intake of vitamin E high because of the vitamin D, so I ate a lot of nuts and seeds, as well as peanut butter, the first few days. I still did not feel great and finally realized I needed to make the balance of vitamin E and iron in my meals as close to one-to-one as I could. Aside from a few slip-ups, this way of balancing vitamin E and iron in my meals has worked the best. I could tell that I was feeling a lot better. Perhaps I didn’t need to worry about having my vitamin E consumption match that of my vitamin D.

Balancing vitamin E and iron in my diet started out being a little tricky, as with anything else new, but I think I’m getting the hang of it more now. I decided to make more use of my iron-fortified gluten-free breads and cereals. For example, one breakfast combined a bowl of cream of rice with sliced pear and a Boost shake with 100% of the RDA for vitamin E. I also used an iron-fortified gluten-free bun with my peanut butter and banana breakfast. I would love putting a fourth of a cup of peanut butter in a bowl and slicing a banana on top of it. I would have a cheese stick on the side. I feared that I would have to give up this breakfast when balancing copper and zinc when I discovered that sunflower butter, cashew butter, almond butter, and chocolate hazelnut butter would all have way too much copper for this to work. Peanut butter had a much lower amount of copper, making this meal still work with a small amount of zinc on the side. I was thrilled. However, the meal provided way more vitamin E than iron, no longer making it workable. I was disappointed about that, but spreading a smaller amount of peanut butter on iron-fortified bread and having that with a banana and cheese stick still makes for a satisfying breakfast. I’m not sure how much vitamin E is in PB2, but I may have to see how using that in my smoothies from now on instead of regular peanut butter will make me feel. When I tried it with regular peanut butter recently, I could tell that it didn’t work well. Another breakfast I would sometimes have is mango with cottage cheese and either pine nuts or pumpkin seeds. Perhaps I could try substituting the nuts or seeds with oatmeal, or maybe even granola, for a better balance of iron and vitamin E. I’ve also tried an Udi’s chocolate chia muffin top with macadamias and instant grits, but I’m worried the instant grits may have been contaminated at the factory as I had a reaction after eating this meal. It could have been due to another source, though, so I’ll have to try the grits again later to see. Sometimes attaining the balance can be as easy as using either Earth Balance spread or butter with vegetables depending on the vitamin E and iron content of the foods in the meal. Like I did with copper and zinc in the beginning, I’ve been using nutrition sites and apps to gather information about vitamin E and iron content of foods so I can best figure out how to balance them in meals.

So far, I feel I’ve been doing really well keeping vitamin E and iron in my meals balanced, but it does take a lot more planning and research. As I did with copper and zinc, over time I hope to have a good idea of which foods have high amounts of iron, high amounts of vitamin E, or a balance, and I can plan more easily. One thing that still appears to be a problem is my endurance. I’ve really noticed it more when climbing stairs or doing treadmill segments with a high incline. I hope to figure out what’s going on there, whether it’s a different nutrient deficiency, another problem altogether, or even something that just needs to improve over time as my body adjusts to the iron and vitamin E balance. I plan to play things by ear for the time being with plans to make an appointment with my doctor if I feel it’s needed in the future. I’m hoping I finally have things with my diet figured out and won’t have to continue to make adjustments and changes due to new issues and symptoms emerging.


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