Vitamins are micronutrients which are essential for many processes in the human body. There are different types of vitamins, including vitamin E. Although most people have normal levels of vitamin E, some people can still develop a deficiency of vitamin E due to different causes. Low vitamin E can have different consequences on your health.
Keep reading this article to learn more about vitamin E deficiency causes, symptoms, and treatment.
What is vitamin E?
Vitamin E is a type of vitamin that the human body requires in order to stay healthy. According to the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin.
As their name suggests, fat-soluble vitamins are micronutrients that can dissolve in fat and oils. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in certain tissues so your body can use them as needed; however, it’s still important to consume these vitamins regularly so your stores don’t become depleted. Fat-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Function of vitamin E in the human body
Vitamin E plays different roles in the human body. One of the main roles of vitamin E is to act as an antioxidant. According to the Mayo Clinic, antioxidants are substances that can help protect your cells against the effects of compounds called free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive and unstable atoms that occur naturally as a result of different metabolic processes. These unstable atoms can cause damage to practically all types of cells in your body, and free radical damage has been linked to many chronic diseases, such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases, among others.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health, other vitamin E functions include:
- Boosting the immune system so it can fight infections more effectively
- Widening blood vessels
- Prevent blood clots from forming
- Allowing different types of cells to communicate with each other
- Helping the body use vitamin K correctly
How is vitamin E made?
Your body can’t make its own vitamin E, which is why you have to get it from external sources. Vitamin E can be found in many dietary sources, and it’s also commonly added to a wide range of fortified foods. Most people get enough vitamin E to cover their daily requirements from their diet, as long as they follow a healthy, balanced, and varied diet.
According to MedlinePlus, the main food sources of vitamin E include:
- Vegetable oils (soybean, sunflower, safflower, corn oils, etcetera)
- Wheat germ
- Nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, etcetera)
- Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin seeds, etcetera)
- Beet greens
- Collard greens
- Red bell pepper
- Fortified juices, cereals, and spreads
A max dose of vitamin E of 1,000 mg or 1,100 IU per day is considered to be safe for most adults. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin E is:
- Adults and teenagers over the age of 14: 15 mg or 22 international units IU per day
- Breastfeeding women:19 mg or 28 IU per day
Causes of vitamin E deficiency
According to StatPearls, vitamin E deficiency due to an insufficient intake is rare in developed countries. But on average, vitamin E deficiency in developing countries is usually related to an inadequate dietary intake.
Other causes of vitamin E deficiency include:
- Preterm babies who weigh less than 3.3 lbs or 1500 grams
- Impaired fat metabolism
- Malabsorption disorders, such as short-bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease
- Certain genetic disorders
- Cystic fibrosis
Vitamin E deficiency symptoms
Although vitamin E deficiency is rare, it can lead to a range of concerning symptoms. Low vitamin E levels can cause your red blood cells to become fragile and your neurons to degenerate.
According to the MSD Manuals, the principal manifestation of low vitamin E is hemolytic anemia, a type of anemia in which your red blood cells are destroyed at a faster pace than your body can replace them. This leads to low hemoglobin levels, and as a consequence, poor tissue oxygenation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs of anemia can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Pounding or ringing sounds in your ears (tinnitus)
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Chest pain
Low vitamin E can also cause neurological deficits. These signs of vitamin E deficiency can include:
- Poor muscle control, or ataxia
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty moving the eyes up and/or down
- Slow reflexes, or hyporeflexia
- Vision problems
Vitamin E deficiency treatments
Your doctor could recommend taking a vitamin E supplement if you’re showing signs of a deficiency. They could also order certain tests to measure your vitamin E levels accurately. However, it’s important to treat any underlying conditions that don’t allow you to absorb vitamin E correctly.
According to the Merck Manual, taking vitamin E supplements corrects these deficiencies in the majority of cases. You can also increase your dietary intake of vitamin E to improve your levels.
Vitamin E - hsph.harvard.edu
Vitamin E - mayoclinic.org
Vitamin E - ods.od.nih.gov
Vitamin E - medlineplus.gov
Vitamin E Deficiency - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Vitamin E Deficiency - msdmanuals.com
Anemia - my.clevelandclinic.org
Vitamin E Deficiency - merckmanuals.com