Vitamins are an indispensable part of a balanced diet. They propel the body to function seamlessly. A deficiency in vitamins can throw several bodily functions off gear. Vitamin E (tocopherol) deficiency is usually a consequence of underlying conditions that affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Pranab (name changed), a 22-year-old from Bengaluru was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is the swelling and inflammation of the digestive tract. The condition is commonly associated with malabsorption syndrome which is the inability to absorb nutrients from food.
Pranab, who experienced a lack of appetite and pronounced weight loss, also developed a deficiency of vitamin E along with other vital nutrients.
Vitamin E deficiency
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin (absorbed with fats in the diet) stored by the fatty tissues and liver.
“Vitamin E deficiency is rare among healthy people and is seen in those with malabsorption syndrome,” says Soumita Biswas, chief nutritionist, Aster RV Hospital, Bengaluru.
“Since vitamin E gets absorbed in the body along with fats, malabsorption of fats in the body can cause vitamin E deficiency,” Biswas adds.
Malfunctioning of organs of the digestive system (like gall bladder, pancreas and liver) can lead to malabsorption, causing a deficiency of vitamin E.
According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin E deficiency can cause nerve and muscle damage that results in loss of sensation in the arms and legs, inability to control body movements, muscle weakness, vision problems and weakened immune system.
Functions of vitamin E
“Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, is a natural antioxidant and protects the cells from damage caused by oxidation,’’ says Dr Basavaraj SK, consultant, internal medicine, Aster Whitefield Hospital, Bengaluru.
Oxidation is the process by which the body metabolises oxygen inhaled by the body. It produces free radicals which can damage molecules like lipids and proteins, causing an increased susceptibility to several diseases.
“Vitamin E is a free radical scavenger that neutralises the free radicals, preventing the damage caused by them,” says Dr Basavaraj.
According to Biswas, the antioxidant properties of vitamin E is essential for the nervous system which is highly susceptible to damage from free radicals. It promotes healthy neurological functioning and nerve recovery.
“Vitamin E also enhances immune system functions and plays an active role in neutralising bacteria during infections,’’ says Dr Basavaraj.
Vitamin E for skin
Vitamin E slows down the ageing process and promotes skin and hair health.
“Prolonged oxidative damage along with pollution and UV exposure can cause premature ageing of the skin. The antioxidant qualities of vitamin E can slow down ageing,” says Dr Smriti Naswa Singh, consultant dermatologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, Mumbai.
“Regular use of tocopherol, beginning in early 20s, can slow down signs of ageing like wrinkles, fine lines and spots.
“Vitamin E is also prescribed during cosmetic procedures like chemical peels and laser treatments to promote better skin recovery post such procedures,” Dr Naswa points out.
Vitamin E, which is beneficial for reducing hair fall and promoting hair growth, can be derived through supplements, serums and oils.
Sources of vitamin E
Pranab, who developed a deficiency of vitamin E (along with other essential nutrients), was given multivitamin and multimineral supplements along with a vitamin E-rich diet rich to reverse his deficiency.
According to Biswas, tocopherol is commonly found in nuts, seeds and oils. Oils with vitamin E include olive oil, coconut oil, etc.
“Nuts like almond and peanuts along with wheat germs are some of the natural sources of vitamin E,” she says.
Dr Naswa recommends following a rainbow diet which includes a wide variety different coloured fruits and vegetables. “Avoid overcooking the vegetables, as the heat tends to destroy the vitamins. Steaming or eating them raw can provide the best results,” she says.
“Seasonal fruits including hyperlocal and wild varieties are also packed with antioxidants,” adds Dr Naswa.
Who are at risk of vitamin E deficiency?
According to Dr Basavaraj, malnourished people, premature babies and people with gastro-intestinal conditions (like gastritis and celiac disease) causing impaired fat absorption are more susceptible to having a deficiency.
“The optimal daily intake of vitamin E is 10 mg for males and 8 mg for females. However, the dosage for females increases during pregnancy and lactation,” says Dr Basavaraj.
Vitamin E deficiency and anemia
According to Dr Basavaraj, a deficiency of vitamin E may lead to hemolytic anemia which is the premature rupture of the red blood cells (RBCs).
Hemolysis is the process by which the body destroys old and damaged RBCs. In hemolytic anemia, this destruction happens faster than the body can replace them with new cells, leading to a low RBC count and hemoglobin level.
“Vitamin E protects RBCs from premature hemolysis by preventing the cells from oxidative damage, thereby maintaining the structural integrity of the cells,” says Dr Basavaraj.
- Vitamin E deficiency is usually caused by conditions that cause malabsorption of nutrients.
- Tocopherol is an antioxidant and protects cells from oxidative damage.
- Nuts and vegetable oils are natural sources of vitamin E.
- Vitamin E delays premature ageing along with promoting skin and hair health.