Vitamin E deficiency is a rare nutritional deficiency that is caused by an underlying health condition, usually low dietary intake. It occurs more in developing countries than in developed countries.
The chances of it happening in adults in developed countries are very slim, and it is usually due to the malabsorption of fat.
Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, is a fat-soluble antioxidant that is vital for the proper functioning of the body. It is found in spinach, whole grains, oil of nuts, and wheat germ. It is even added to your food to increase dietary intake.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin E is 15 mg (or 22.4 IU) for people over the age of 14.
Lactating women may also require more vitamin E, so for breastfeeding women, 19 mg (or 28.4 IU) is required. The recommended daily allowances for children are as follows;
- Infants (6 months) require 4mg (6 IU)
- Infants (6 months – 1 year) need 5mg (7.5 IU)
- Children (1-3 years old) require 6mg (9 IU)
- Children (4-8 years old) require 7mg (10.4 IU)
- Children (9-13 years old) need 11mg (16.4 IU)
Vitamin E protects the cells and reduces the risk of diseases like cancer. It is also essential for the functioning of the immune system.
As an antioxidant, it helps the cells in fighting off infections. It also helps to protect the eyesight, according to the Department of Epidemiology and Health Statistics of the Qingdao University Medical College.
Vitamin E also plays a significant role in the production of prostaglandins, a hormone-like substance responsible for the regulation of a variety of body processes like muscle contraction and blood pressure.
The following factors contribute to the development of vitamin E deficiency.
Vitamin E deficiency can result from diseases that reduce the body’s ability to absorb fat. Since vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient, its absorption is therefore compromised. These diseases include:
- Celiac disease
- Cholestatic liver disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Crohn’s disease
There exists a rare genetic condition known as Isolated Vitamin E deficiency. This is caused by mutations in the gene responsible for tocopherol protein transfer.
People with this condition have an extremely poor capacity to absorb vitamin E. They eventually develop neurological complications that are reversed by high doses of the vitamin.
Another example of a genetic disease that can cause vitamin E deficiency is Congenital Abetalipoproteinemia, the inability to absorb dietary fats, cholesterol, and fat-soluble vitamins.
Premature and Very Low Birth Weight
Infants who are born prematurely or weigh less than 1500 grams (3.3 pounds) are susceptible to vitamin E deficiency.
Symptoms of Vitamin E Deficiency
Impairment of the immune system
One of the main functions of vitamin E is to help the cells against infections and maintain the healthy functioning of the immune system.
Reduced intake of vitamin D compromises the immune system, leaving it open to attack from diseases. A lack of vitamin D inhibits the body’s immunity, especially in older adults.
Weakening of eyesight
Vitamin E deficiency can lead to the impairment of vision. It can weaken the light receptors in the retina and other cells in the eyes, leading to the loss of vision over time.
Muscle Response Impairment
Vitamin E is essential for the functioning of the central nervous system. As an antioxidant, its deficiency results in stress on the oxidative properties of the body.
This can lead to muscle weakness of the muscles. Since the central nervous system is responsible for muscle response, damage to the nervous system can lead to difficulties in the muscle.
Difficulty in Walking and Body Coordination
The sheaths of neurons (nerve cells) are mostly composed of fats. When the body is low on vitamin E, it contains fewer antioxidants that protect these fats, and the function of the nervous system breaks down.
Lack of vitamin D leads to the breakdown of the Purkinje neurons, which affects the body’s ability to transmit signals to the brain – thus affecting body coordination.
Damage to the nerve cells caused by a lack of vitamin E prevents the nerves from transmitting signals correctly.
This leads to a condition known as peripheral neuropathy, a condition that results when nerves that carry messages from the brain to the spinal cord and the rest of the body are damaged or diseased.
This is a form of anemia that occurs due to the hemolysis of the red blood cells. Deficiency of vitamin E can lead to the abnormal breakdown of erythrocytes (red blood cells) either in the blood vessels or somewhere else in the body (usually in the spleen). It is a potentially life-threatening condition.
If there is no history of insufficient intake or an existing condition, vitamin E deficiency is unlikely to be diagnosed. Confirmation of an inadequate amount of vitamin E would require testing the levels in the blood.
The two major treatment options for the treatment of vitamin E deficiency are:
Infants and premature with vitamin E deficiency can be treated with supplements. This would involve passing a tube to administer the supplement.
Vitamin E supplements can also be administered intravenously. Although one dose can be sufficient enough to raise vitamin E levels in the blood, multiple doses may be required.
Additionally, children and adults with vitamin E deficiency caused by genetic conditions may require high doses of vitamin E supplements. This inhibits the progression of the disease, especially when detected early.
The likelihood of an individual having low levels of vitamin E unless they have an inherited condition or a chronic disease is very slim. For some people, supplements are not necessary.
Vitamin E is abundant in a variety of foods. Because the body cannot produce it naturally, it must be provided from supplements or diets. Foods that contain vitamin E include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Groundnut oil
- Olive oil
- Whole grains
- Red peppers