Vitamin E: Its Importance, sources, reasons for ‘E’ deficiency and toxicity

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Shunmukha Priya, Ph.D. in Food Science and Nutrition

Vitamin E or Tocopherol is a critical vitamin with antioxidant properties that dissolves in fat. It is a crucial nutrient for proper health. It is readily available in a variety of supplements and foods. The most effective way in which you can consume this vitamin is by consuming a healthy balanced diet.

Deficiency is rare; however, many people decide to overdose by the use of supplements and this has become a huge concern.

In most cases, people with specific types of genetic disorders and premature infants who have low-weight are more susceptible to Vitamin E deficiency. 

Just like any other supplement or medication, too much of this vitamin may lead to toxicity. If you orally take too much vitamin E, then this increases your risk of prostate cancer. There are also other serious risks, especially if consumed in high doses.

Also, if you’ve had a stroke or heart attack, it is always safer to talk to your doctor first before opting for Vitamin E supplements.

What is Vitamin E?

Vitamin E is a vital nutrient that plays a significant role in reproduction, vision, and how healthy your brain, skin, and blood is. Because of its antioxidant properties, it also protects you from free radicals.

However, if you are taking vitamin E supplements for the antioxidant properties, it is essential to note that it may not be able to provide you with the same benefits that come with foods that naturally contain antioxidants.

Vitamin E occurs typically in a total of 8 chemical forms. With the proper tests, a doctor should be able to know how much a single person has. With this information, the doctor will be able to determine one’s vitamin E level.

The need for Vitamin E

Apart from having antioxidant properties, Vitamin E improves an individual’s immune system. It does this so that it can fight viruses and bacteria that may invade your body.

It also plays a critical role in widening the blood vessels so that there is no blood clotting. On top of this, cells use Vitamin E to carry out various vital functions.

Vitamin E is also critical when it comes to eyesight. According to different studies that were carried out, the findings suggest that vitamin E has high levels of serum-tocopherol, which decreases the chances of developing cataracts in older people.

The vitamin is also essential in the production of prostaglandins. These are hormone-like substances that are vital for the regulation of various body processes like muscle contraction and blood pressure.

Also, other studies have found that it also aids in muscle repair, especially after exercising.

Vitamin E for your Hair

Research has found that Vitamin E plays a significant role in hair and scalp health. Studies on vitamin E are still being carried out.

Below are some of the benefits that Vitamin E pertaining to hair health.

1. Hair loss prevention

Vitamin E supplement has been found to improve hair growth, especially for those who suffer from hair loss. Its antioxidant properties have been found to reduce the oxidative stress on the scalp.

2. Balancing of oil production

When it comes to the creation of a healthy protective barrier on your scalp surface, vitamin E is crucial. The barrier is vital since it helps in locking in moisture. Having an irritated, dry scalp may be a sure sign that you have vitamin E deficiency.

3. Better scalp circulation

Vitamin E helps with blood flow, which in turn improves hair growth and health.

Vitamin E for your face and skin

You can apply Vitamin E oil to reduce inflammation. Applying the oil topically also helps in making your skin look brighter and younger. Many people have claimed to enjoy the benefits of the vitamin, especially when used overnight.

The vitamin also fights off free radicals, which may be as a result of air pollution or too much exposure to the sun. In short, it protects your skin from damage.

Because of its healing and moisturising benefits, it helps strengthen the barrier function of your skin.

What’s the role of Vitamin E in the elderly?

Studies are still being carried out to know the exact impact vitamin E has on older adults. However, some studies have shown that older adults who consume or use the vitamin past the current DRI may have some effects.

One of the major effects is that they may end up increasing their susceptibility to biological changes that are age-associated. These are most commonly the ones related to inflammation, immune function, and resistance to infections.

Risks that come with Lack of Vitamin E

As mentioned above, vitamin E is essential for one’s body to be able to function correctly. When you have low levels of the vitamin, it can lead to the following:

1. Walking and coordination difficulties

When you lack proper levels of vitamin E, specific neurons by the name Purkinje neurons start breaking down. When this takes place, it becomes difficult for your body to transmit the much-needed signals.

2. Muscle weakness

When it comes to the central nervous system, vitamin E plays a crucial role. Because it is part of the main antioxidants in the body, low levels of vitamin E result in oxidative stress. As a result, your muscles are negatively affected and become weak.

3. Vision deterioration

A low level of vitamin E weakens the light receptors in your retina and all the other cells that are in your eyes. Over an extended period, this may lead to vision loss.

4. Tingling and numbness

When your nerve fibres are damaged, this makes it impossible for your nerves to transmit signals correctly. The damage to your nerve fibres is what causes the tingling and numbness, better referred to as peripheral neuropathy.

5. Problems with your immune system

Some researchers suggest that low levels of vitamin E deficiency may inhibit your immune cells. Older adults are more likely to be susceptible to this. 

The E-Deficiency

Vitamin E deficiency is a rare condition even though there are those individuals who are prone to it compared to others. People who are more likely to suffer from E-deficiency are people with abetalipoproteinemia and fat malabsorption.

Abetalipoproteinemia is a genetic disorder that prevents one’s body from being able to absorb dietary fats from food. Conditions like ataxia, anaemia, skeletal myopathy, retinopathy, peripheral neuropathy, nerve damage, and immune system impairment are some of the signs that you may be vitamin E deficient.

Causes of Vitamin E Deficiency

1. Medical conditions

This deficiency can be a result of one suffering from a disease that reduces fat absorption. Wondering how? Well, the body needs to have fat for it to be able to absorb vitamin E in the right manner. Some of the diseases that can cause this include:

  • Cholestatic liver disease
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Celiac disease
  • Short bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease

This kind of deficiency, as mentioned earlier, is also prevalent in premature babies and newborns. This prevalence is especially common in babies who have less fat and have low birth weight.

Premature infants are at a higher risk because an immature digestive tract may end up interfering with vitamin E and fat absorption.  On top of this, this deficiency may lead to a condition known as hemolytic anaemia, which seriously destroys the red blood cells.

2. Genetics

The deficiency of vitamin E is a condition that may run in the family. Taking time to learn a little about your family history can make diagnosing the disease easier.

 The most common types are a familial isolated deficiency and congenital abetalipoproteinemia, which are chronic and are as a result of vitamin E deficiency.

Vitamin E Deficiency in India

According to the studies that have been carried out, it is found that there is mild deficiency to moderate deficiency.

This study was found to be as a result of inadequate consumption of Vitamin E rich foods and intestinal malabsorption as the leading causes. The study found that this mostly affects women who are at reproductive age, the elderly population, and growing children.

However, the severity of vitamin E deficiency in India is still being investigated. Also, there is a challenge when it comes to determining the status of vitamin E in healthy adults.

This challenge is a result of the various age variations, levels of plasma lipids, and sources of vitamin E consumed.

Sources of Vitamin E

Vitamin E is in foods that are rich in fat. These foods include:

  • Nuts like peanuts, almonds, filberts, and hazelnuts
  • Vegetable oils like sunflower, wheat germ, soybean oils, safflower and corn
  • White tuna canned in oil
  • Breakfast cereals that are fortified, margarine, fruit juices, and spreads
  • Seeds like sunflower seeds

When we talk about fortified, this means that the food has vitamins added to it. It’s always advisable to take time to read the nutrition facts at the back of the food label.

Obesity and Vitamin E

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand the dangers that come with obesity.

Studies carried out show that obese individuals need to have a balanced diet that contains enough levels of vitamin E. This is mainly because obese individuals require more than what is considered to be normal levels.

Why? Well, this is because of their unhealthy weight, and other problems associated with it tend to increase oxidative stress.

Because of the above, the effective use of vitamin E is prevented, primarily because of no absorption.

Also, studies found that tissues of individuals who are obese are rejecting the intake of essential lipids since their body has enough fat. As a result of this, the body also ends up rejecting vitamin E. This, together with oxidative stress, is responsible behind the lack of Vitamin E absorption.

A reasonable way to maintain a healthy body is through eating a balanced diet while at the same time, taking the required level of vitamin E. When you decide to opt for supplements, always include vitamin E rich foods in your diet to ensure better absorption.

Vitamin E Toxicity

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means, the body will store it. What this means is that the excess is not usually washed out through your urinary tract. Over a period of time, it may end up accumulating to levels that are considered toxic. However, this is rare.

The right dosage and amounts of vitamin E should always be taken in the recommended dosage. Overly excess amounts may have negative impacts on the body. Also, vitamin E may end up blocking vitamin K and A absorption.

Additionally, it may end up decreasing LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels. These effects have been found to occur when the dosage consumed in a day goes beyond 400 IU.

Even though vitamin E is available in supplements and fortified foods, it is always advisable to have it consumed in amounts measured in mg. Since patients can also use the vitamin as a mild thinner, it is advisable not to consume it, especially after surgery. 

Conclusion

Vitamin E plays an essential role in the human body. As mentioned, it is crucial to make sure that you get the right levels of vitamin E.

However, make sure that you do not overdo it. If you are suffering from the E-deficiency, always speak to your doctor or a specialist in this field first. Also, do not opt for any diets without knowing its pros and cons.

It is noteworthy that studies and research are still been carried out concerning vitamin E.





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