Compared to many other vitamin types, vitamin E isn’t discussed all that often. However, this fat-soluble vitamin plays a number of important roles in the human body. This article discusses such functions in addition to symptoms of vitamin E deficiency. We’ll also provide sources of vitamin E that can be implemented into our daily diets.
The Role of Vitamin E
Among the primary roles of vitamin E is to halt the production of reactive oxygen species, or ROS. ROS forms internally when the food that we eat is converted into energy. ROS can damage our cells through a process called oxidation, and has been named as a potential root cause of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Vitamin E is an effective antioxidant that halts the production or ROS during this oxidation process. Scientists believe that by limited free-radical production, vitamin E may be effective in the prevention of chronic diseases. Additional prevention capabilities of vitamin E are currently being investigated.
Vitamin E is also involved in immune system function. Coupled with its potent antioxidant properties, the vitamin serves as a primary defense mechanism in the prevention of both chronic and acute illnesses. Additionally, individuals with vitamin E deficiency are more at-risk for both infectious diseases and the development of tumors. These risk factors are enhanced during the aging process.
It is worth mentioning that vitamin E deficiency is quite rare, and that consuming just the minimal amount counteracts many associated symptoms. Individuals most at-risk for vitamin E deficiency include: elderly adults, premature and/or underweight infants, those with abnormal fat absorption, people on very low-fat diets, and those with any type of malnutrition.
8 Signs You Have A Vitamin E Deficiency
1. Impaired immune response.
As mentioned above, vitamin E plays a key role in proper function of the immune system. Vitamin E deficiency stunts the immune system response to harmful agents that trigger sickness and disease. As such, a person with a vitamin E deficiency may become ill more often and experience longer durations of illness. Additionally, relative symptoms of illnesses may be exacerbated in those with a vitamin E deficiency.
2. Vision problems
In experimental studies, vitamin E has been shown to “prevent, slow progression of, or improve macular degeneration.” Although the scientific rationale for such properties are inconclusive, it is clear that vitamin E possesses inherent properties that help protect our vision.
It can be ascertained, then, that insufficient levels of vitamin E may inhibit vision ability. This is the result of systemic damage to eye cells caused by free radicals. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends vitamin E to prevent many adverse eye conditions.
3. Loss of muscle mass
Bodybuilder’s have been singing the health benefit praises of vitamin E for years. As it turns out, scientists and researchers are in agreement with our bulkier counterparts. Specifically, muscle cells have a tendency to tear, requiring an assortment of vitamins and nutrients to aid the healing process. Physiologically, vitamin E ensures that the plasma membrane – an essential component of muscle repair – remains in-tact.
4. Muscle weakness
Not only can deficient levels of vitamin E result in loss of muscle mass, it can also cause our muscles to become frail. The physiological mechanisms that promote muscle weakness is similar to muscle loss: deficiency of E vitamins allows free radicals to attack the innards of our muscle cells. Scientists have also discovered the links between vitamin E and muscular dystrophy and diabetes-related muscle weakness.
5. Balance problems
Neurologically, deficiency of E vitamins may have effects on the nervous system. One particular concern of neurologists is the apparent decline of motor skills. As a result, inadequate levels of vitamin E can lead to nerve degeneration of the hands and feet, impaired reflexes, poor coordination and balance loss. It is believed that individuals with severe E deficiency are more likely to experience coordination-related problems.
6. Cognitive difficulties
Our brains are highly sensitive to the effects of free radicals and oxidative stress. In advanced stages, a vitamin E deficiency can directly impact basic cognitive function. Relatedly, people that test for high vitamin E levels often demonstrate better cognitive performance.
Perhaps the most promising research related to vitamin E and cognition, the vitamin has been shown “to prevent or delay cognitive decline (which) has been tested in clinical trials in both aging population and Alzheimer’s disease patients.”
7. Digestive issues
Vitamin E’s role in digestion is more of a prescriptive one than preventative. In other words, vitamin E deficiency may not tie directly into digestive problems, although it is certainly possible considering the importance of related vitamins. Interestingly, physicians often prescribe high amounts of vitamin E to aid problems with the digestive system. Therefore, if we should experience digestive problems, it may be wise to up our vitamin E intake.
8. Skin problems or hair loss
Certain membranes of our skin are vulnerable to damage from free radicals, particularly the lipids of our skin cells. Skin lipids are susceptible to both internal and external damage, especially from UV exposure and pollutants. As a fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin E is very effective in counteracting potential damage to skin lipids.
Sources of Vitamin E
It is quite easy to consume the recommended amount of vitamin E. However, here are some foods with high vitamin E content:
- Green vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
In addition to these and other foods, vitamin E can also be purchased as a supplement.