Vitamin E is an essential fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that humans need to consume from food or supplements (1, 2). Like many other nutrients, the body cannot make vitamin E on its own (3). Some other fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, and K (4).
Fat-soluble vitamins store in the body over time, so it is crucial to be cautious about how much vitamin E you consume from supplements.
Vitamin E is necessary for many functions throughout the body.
Vitamin E deficiency is exceedingly rare (5), and it is typically not because of dietary concern. It can instead happen due to an underlying malabsorption or maldigestion issue (6, 7). That is because it is a lipid-soluble nutrient (8).
Summary: Vitamin E is an essential fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant. Fat-soluble means fat must be present for the vitamin to be absorbed. Deficiency is typically rare, and most often occurs if someone has malabsorption or maldigestion issues preventing them from absorbing fat-soluble vitamins.
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Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin E Deficiency
Do you think you are getting enough vitamin E in your daily diet? Find out more about some common symptoms of vitamin E deficiency, causes, and the best foods to eat to boost your levels.
1. Nerve and Muscle Damage
Although vitamin E deficiency is rare, if it does happen, one of the most common symptoms is nerve and muscle damage (11, 12). That can result in loss of feeling in the arms and legs as well, also known as Ataxia (13).
If you are not able to absorb adequate levels of vitamin E due to fat absorption issues, the body cannot properly conduct electrical impulses (14). Vitamin E is necessary to carry out these processes.
When your vitamin E levels are too low, the nerve membrane structure changes (15). If you do not have an underlying condition or malabsorption issue that can cause you to become deficient in vitamin E, you likely have little to worry about.
Read on to find out what common diseases and disorders can bring up vitamin E deficiencies.
Summary: Vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage, and Ataxia which is loss of feeling in arms and legs. Vitamin E is necessary to conduct electrical impulses and help with nerve membrane structure. Not having enough vitamin E in the body means these processes can be compromised. Most often, malabsorption issues cause this to happen.
2. Vision Problems
Another sign or symptom of vitamin E deficiency is vision problems. That can include more severe vision deterioration, pigmentation, or even blurry vision (16).
Those who suffer from age-related macular degeneration or cataracts, usually the elderly, can see benefits from vitamin E supplementation or a dietary shift (17). That is because vitamin E plays a significant role in maintaining eye health (18).
If you suffer from any eye issues such as blurry vision, cataracts, macular degeneration, pigmentation, or blurry vision, take a careful look at your diet and speak to your doctor or healthcare professional about your options.
Summary: Vision deterioration, pigmentation, or blurry vision are common signs or symptoms of vitamin E deficiency. Vitamin E plays a big role in eye health due to its high antioxidant properties. Those who suffer from age-related eye issues, such as macular degeneration or cataracts, see benefit from consuming more vitamin E. Talk to your doctor to see if a supplement is right for you.
3. Weakened Immune System
Many factors can cause a weakened immune system, but vitamin E is essential in this part of the body as well (19). The immune system can not defend against bacteria, viruses, free radicals, and pathogens without the proper balance of nutrients (20, 21).
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to strengthen and maintain a healthy immune system (22). Keep in mind, if you are prone to getting sick all the time, it does not necessarily mean you are deficient in vitamin E.
Other vital fat-soluble nutrients that are necessary for immunity include vitamins A, D, and K (23).
The proper balance of these fat-soluble vitamins, as well as seamless digestion, are the key elements to be sure you keep a healthy, thriving immune system.
Summary: The high antioxidant profile in vitamin E helps to strengthen and maintain healthy immunity. Vitamin A, D, and K are also important fat-soluble nutrients that boost immunity. A healthy digestive tract and proper intake of these fat-soluble vitamins can help the immune system work to defend against bacteria, viruses, free radicals, and pathogens.
4. Coordination Issues
Do you have trouble walking correctly and lack coordination? That is another common symptom of vitamin E deficiency (24). It has to do with the loss of nerve function and more.
Specific neurons, called Purkinje neurons are necessary to help you walk properly and improve hand-eye coordination. A lack of vitamin E can cause damage to these neurons, making them fail to transmit signals (25).
If you are having difficulty with walking or coordination, speak to your healthcare professional about getting more testing.
Summary: Neurons, specifically Purkinje neurons, help with hand-eye and walking coordination. These neurons rely on vitamin E to help them function. If there isn’t enough vitamin E present for neurons to use, you may experience difficulty walking or lack of coordination.
5. Numbness or Tingling
Vitamin E deficiency or insufficiency can also cause numbness or tingling in the legs or throughout the body (26).
Nerve damage is a common symptom of vitamin E deficiency, and numbness or tingling is a symptom of nerve damage (27).
The nerves must transmit signals throughout the body correctly to prevent these symptoms, and without enough vitamin E, they do not stand a chance. Another name for numbness or tingling is peripheral neuropathy.
Summary: Vitamin E deficiency can cause numbness and tingling, also known as peripheral neuropathy, throughout the body. This is due to nerve damage. Nerves need vitamin E in order to transmit signals throughout the body. If vitamin E isn’t present, they can’t send the proper signals, and thus can cause loss of feeling in the body.
Causes of Vitamin E Deficiency
Vitamin E deficiency is rare, but certain populations are more at risk of insufficiency or deficiency. For example, those in developing countries are more likely to become vitamin E deficient or premature babies (28).
- Premature babies (under 3 pounds)
- Genetics (vitamin E deficiency can run in families)
- Disrupted fat malabsorption (fat is necessary to digest the fat-soluble vitamin E)
- Patients with cystic fibrosis
- Bowel surgery or syndromes like short-bowel syndrome
- Chrohn’s disease
- Mutations in transfer proteins between vitamin E compounds
- A decrease in bile flow
- Thrombosis (blood clotting in the circulatory system)
- Celiac disease
- Liver disease
As you can see, vitamin E plays a critical role in many functions throughout the body. It is crucial to make sure you keep a healthy diet to not only acquire enough vitamin E but to diminish the risk of developing malabsorption issues.
If you suffer from one of the following diseases or issues, you are more likely to be deficient in vitamin E. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you do have one of the above disorders or if your baby is born prematurely.
You can easily ask to receive blood work to check your vitamin E levels so you can get to the root cause of the disease in your body.
Summary: Eating a healthy, balanced diet is key to preventing vitamin E deficiency. The highest risk populations include people living in developing countries and premature babies. A number of factors impact absorption including malabsorption or digestive issues (chrohn’s, celiac, and liver diseases, cystic fibrosis), genes, blood clots, and bowel surgeries. You can get blood work to check vitamin E levels if desired.
Foods with High Vitamin E-Content
- Wheat germ and oil
- Sunflower seeds and oil
- Sunflower and safflower oil
- Peanut butter
- Corn oil
- Spinach (raw or cooked)
Is there somewhere you can start adding more vitamin E to your diet? If you are eating these foods regularly, and you still have symptoms of vitamin E deficiency, reach out to your doctor. Be sure to speak with your doctor about testing, as well as potential maldigestion and malabsorption issues.
Summary: Add in vitamin E-rich foods to your daily diet. Many plant-based foods are high in vitamin E including wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter, corn oil, spinach, mango, kiwi, broccoli, and tomato. Eat a variety of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains daily to ensure good vitamin E intake. Talk to your doctor if you have suspect issues with vitamin E absorption.
Vitamin E deficiency is typically rare. That is because the main reason for it is maldigestion or malabsorption.
It is more common in those who have some chronic diseases like celiac disease, liver disease, and more.
If you are living an unhealthy lifestyle with a lack of sleep, exercise, and nutrient-dense food, seek out a nutritionist or health coach to help you find what works for you in the long term.
With a healthy diet, full of the foods listed above, you should be able to get adequate levels of vitamin E in your diet. Avoid processed and refined foods whenever possible to make sure you do not create any maldigestion or malabsorption issues down the road.