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Signs And Symptoms Of A Vitamin E Deficiency

Symptoms Of A Vitamin E Deficiency

An overwhelming majority of people in the United States have insufficient vitamin E intake. When this deficiency begins to show, it causes nerve and muscle damage, loss of sensation and trouble coordinating limbs, vision problems, dry skin, and brittle hair. It even raises susceptibility to infections.

Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin with potent antioxidant powers, counteracts the effects of free radical damage from toxins like chemicals, smoke, other substances in foods, and byproducts of metabolic processes in the body. It might even prevent certain chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease that are linked to free radical damage.1

Vitamin E deficiency symptoms crop up in numerous ways since this antioxidant vitamin has a variety of roles to play in your health – from boosting immune function to battling the daily damage from exposure to toxins. An estimated 90% or more of Americans don’t get enough vitamin E to meet the recommended intake levels, so it is possible that you or someone you know has the problem and may already be showing signs of a deficiency.2

Having Under 15 Mg Of Vitamin E A Day Might Cause A Deficiency

If you are an adult, you should be consuming around 15 mg of vitamin E every day in some form. When you are a new mother and still nursing your baby, that requirement rises to 19 mg a day.3 You can get your vitamin E from foods like nuts, seeds, fish, abalone, and even vegetable oils you use for cooking. Even some fruit and vegetables contain some vitamin E – butternut squash, spinach, avocado, dried apricots, broccoli, and red peppers, to name a few.

So what happens to your body when you fail to supply it with the vitamin E it needs? Symptoms like the ones listed below start to crop up. Over time, they can get worse, so be sure to address it by consulting a doctor, increasing your dietary intake of the nutrient, and even using supplements if advised by a medical practitioner.

1. Loss Of Sensation, Weakness, And Pain In Extremities

A vitamin E deficiency is linked to peripheral neuropathy, a condition that results in nerve damage in the hands, feet, and arms. This form of nerve injury is associated with inadequate levels of tocopherol, a form of vitamin E, in the peripheral nerves.4 Major symptoms of this problem linked to a vitamin E deficiency include:5:

  • Tingling and/or numbness in the hands and feet
  • Sharp stabbing or shooting pain in affected parts of the body
  • Burning sensation in the affected region
  • Loss of coordination
  • Feeling off balance/balance issues
  • Muscle weakness which is particularly noticeable in the feet

2. Loss Of Control Of Movement (AVED)

Ataxia with vitamin E deficiency, or AVED for short, is a rare inherited disorder that makes it hard for your body to utilize the vitamin E it gets from multiple sources. The condition can cause neurological problems, making it hard for you to coordinate and control the movement of your own limbs. These signs will start to show up at an early age, causing problems or difficulty with movement in children as young as 5 years old. They usually surface in those affected before they are 15 years old. As you get older, issues with movement may become more severe.6 Typically, large doses of vitamin E may be prescribed in supplement form by a doctor to treat the problem. But do not risk self-medication because you could wind up with vitamin E toxicity which can cause hemorrhagic effects/excessive bleeding.7

3. Vision Problems

Ataxia with vitamin E deficiency may also sometimes bring on vision problems. Specifically, retinitis pigmentosa, a disorder of the eye that can even cause vision loss.8 Watch out for these signs and symptoms of this problem:9

  • Poor night vision or loss of night vision
  • Blind spots on the sides, impaired peripheral vision
  • Tunnel vision
  • Difficulty driving, reading, recognizing faces (as conditions progress over years/decades) and performing other detailed tasks which depend on vision
  • Total loss of sight/becoming legally blind

Besides this, by not consuming enough vitamin E, you deny your body the protection the vitamin offers against the breakdown of healthy eye tissue. This tissue damage is linked to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract formation.10 Watch for these signs of AMD:11

  • Distortion in shape of objects
  • Crooked/wavy appearance of straight lines
  • Loss of ability to see objects clearly – this decline is gradual though
  • Clear color vision loss
  • Empty/dark space in the center of your line of sight

Cataracts, on the other hand, may cause blurred vision, trouble while reading, and issues with glare.12

4. Dry And Irritated Skin

Vitamin E is great for skin health and not getting enough can mean your skin lacks the protective barrier it forms. With nothing to keep the moisture from being lost, your skin may wind up looking dry and feeling irritated.13 While further studies are needed, some research on animal test subjects has shown that a deficiency of the nutrient could cause skin ulcers.14

5. Memory Impairment

Vitamin E is being studied for its potential in neurodegenerative diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, to prevent cognitive decline. What researchers have noted is that poor memory and weaker performance in memory tests have been consistently present in those with low vitamin E levels in their blood. Studies on centenarians with normal cognitive function, as opposed to the typical cognitive decline seen in seniors, revealed that vitamin E may have a positive impact on brain function. These elderly adults had high levels of alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) as well as vitamin A in their plasma. Researchers suggest that the presence of these antioxidant vitamins may offer protection against cognitive decline resulting from oxidative stress.15

6. Dry, Brittle Hair And Increased Hair Loss

Vitamin E can boost circulation of blood to your scalp, nourishing it from within.16 It also protects your hair from premature graying.17 It even protects the cuticles of your hair from sun damage.18 When you are short on the nutrient, your hair is likely to be dry and brittle and you might even see hair loss.19

7. Increased Vulnerability To Infection

A shortfall of this important antioxidant vitamin could also cause your immune system to take a hit, making you weaker and more vulnerable to infections.20 If you find yourself falling ill more often or taking longer to get over an infection, do have your vitamin E levels checked.

In Women, Vitamin E Deficiency Could Cause A Miscarriage

Miscarriage is one rather unfortunate result of a vitamin E deficiency that may affect pregnancies of women with inadequate intake. Researchers suggest that this may be due to the vital role of vitamin E in the normal development of body parts of the fetus. A severe deficiency may result in depletion of the fatty acids the body needs and may mean tapping into the glucose reserves. This, in turn, causes insufficient energy availability for normal development. The result? A raised risk of miscarriage.21

References   [ + ]

1. Vitamin E. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
2. McBurney, Michael, Elaine Yu, Eric Ciappio, Julia Bird, Manfred Eggersdorfer, Elisabeth Stoecklin, and Saurabh Mehta. “Vitamin E status of the US adult population by use of dietary supplements (1041.7).” The FASEB Journal 28, no. 1 Supplement (2014): 1041-7.
3, 7. Vitamin E. Office of Dietary Supplements.
4. Traber, Maret G., Ronald J. Sokol, Steven P. Ringel, Hans E. Neville, Cheryl A. Thellman, and Herbert J. Kayden. “Lack of tocopherol in peripheral nerves of vitamin E-deficient patients with peripheral neuropathy.” New England Journal of Medicine317, no. 5 (1987): 262-265.
5. Peripheral neuropathy. National Health Service.
6, 8. Ataxia with vitamin E deficiency. National Institutes of Health.
9. Retinitis pigmentosa. National Institutes of Health.
10. Vitamin E. American Optometric Association.
11. Age-Related Macular Degeneration. American Optometric Association.
12. Cataract surgery. American Optometric Association.
13. Panin, Giorgio, Renata Strumia, and Fulvio Ursini. “Topical α‐Tocopherol Acetate in the Bulk Phase: Eight Years of Experience in Skin Treatment.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1031, no. 1 (2004): 443-447.
14. Machlin, L. J., R. Filipski, J. Nelson, L. R. Horn, and M. Brin. “Effects of a prolonged vitamin E deficiency in the rat.” The Journal of Nutrition 107, no. 7 (1977): 1200-1208.
15. Fata, Giorgio La, Peter Weber, and M. Hasan Mohajeri. “Effects of vitamin E on cognitive performance during ageing and in Alzheimer’s disease.” Nutrients 6, no. 12 (2014): 5453-5472.
16. Heitzer, Thomas, Seppo Ylä Herttuala, Elke Wild, Jukka Luoma, and Helmut Drexler. “Effect of vitamin E on endothelial vasodilator function in patients with hypercholesterolemia, chronic smoking or both.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology 33, no. 2 (1999): 499-505.
17. Trueb, Ralph M. “Pharmacologic interventions in aging hair.” Clinical interventions in aging 1, no. 2 (2006): 121.
18. Šebetić, Klaudija, Ines Sjerobabski Masnec, Vlatka Čavka, Darko Biljan, and Ivan Krolo. “UV damage of the hair.” Collegium antropologicum 32, no. 2 (2008): 163-165.
19. Peters Ken, Stuss David, Nick Waddell. “Hair Loss Prevention Through Natural Remedies: A Prescription for Healthier Hair.” Apple Tree Publishing Company Limited, 1996.
20. Vitamin E. Office of Dietary Supplements.
21. McDougall, Melissa, Jaewoo Choi, Hye-Kyeong Kim, Gerd Bobe, J. Frederik Stevens, Enrique Cadenas, Robert Tanguay, and Maret G. Traber. “Lethal dysregulation of energy metabolism during embryonic vitamin E deficiency.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 104 (2017): 324-332.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.