Vitamin E deficiency

The symptoms of vitamin E deficiency in infants are irritability, fluid retention, hemolytic anemia (the breaking down of red blood cells) and eye disorders. In adults, vitamin E deficiency can lead to nerve damage and symptoms of lethargy, apathy, inability to concentrate, staggering gait, low thyroid hormone levels, decreased immune response, loss of balance and anemia.

Severe vitamin E deficiency is very rare. Those at risk include people with chronic liver disease and fat malabsorption syndromes, such as celiac disease and cystic fibrosis. Hemodialysis patients, those with inherited red blood cell disorders, premature and low birthweight infants, and elderly people may also be at risk of vitamin E deficiency and are often given supplements.

Vitamin E deficiencyAs vitamin E is stored in the body, it can take some time before deficiency symptoms become apparent in someone consuming a diet low in vitamin E. Marginal vitamin E deficiency may be relatively common and several studies have shown an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and other disorders in those with low vitamin E levels.

 

Cardiovascular disease

Low dietary intake of vitamin E seems to increase the risk of heart disease. This is illustrated by results from the Iowa Women's Health Study published in 1996 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers studied 34,486 postmenopausal women with no cardiovascular disease who in early 1986 completed a questionnaire that assessed, among other factors, their intake of vitamins A, E, and C from food sources and supplements. During seven years of follow-up, 242 women died of coronary heart disease. The results showed that high vitamin E consumption reduced the risk of death from coronary heart disease. This association was particularly striking in the subgroup of 21,809 women who did not consume vitamin supplements.

Similar results have been seen in men. Harvard School of Public Health researchers have assessed the links between diet and heart disease in 39,910 US male health professionals aged between 40 to 75 years of age. Participants responded to a questionnaire in 1986 and were then followed up for four years, during which time there were 667 cases of coronary disease. The results showed a lower risk of disease among men with higher intakes of vitamin E. Men consuming more than 40 mg (60 IU) per day had a 36 per cent lower risk than those consuming less than 5 mg (7.5 IU) per day. Men who took at least 67 mg (100 IU) per day for at least two years had a 37 per cent lower risk than those who did not take supplements.

The results of a 1996 study done in Japan suggest that low vitamin E levels increase the risk of a type of angina caused by coronary artery spasm.3 Animal studies suggest that brain damage after stroke may be greater in those who are vitamin E-deficient

Cancer

There is some evidence that vitamin E can protect against cancer, although studies have shown conflicting results. Some population studies suggest that low vitamin E levels increase the risk of certain cancers, particularly those of the gastrointestinal tract, cervix and lungs.

Cancers of the gastrointestinal tract

Results from the Iowa Women's Health Study suggest that high intakes of vitamin E reduce the risk of colon cancer. Researchers analyzed the links between vitamin E and colon cancer in 35,215 Iowa women aged 55 to 69 years without a history of cancer. During the follow-up period, there were 212 cases of colon cancer. The results showed that low vitamin E intake increased the risk of colon cancer and those in the high intake group had 30 per cent of the risk of those in the low intake group. The protective factor was stronger in the younger women.

Other results from the Iowa Women's Health Study show that higher intakes of antioxidants, including vitamin E, are linked to lower risks of both oral, pharyngeal, esophageal and gastric cancers.

Breast cancer

Researchers at the University of Southern California investigated the relationship between blood levels of various nutrients, including vitamin E, and the risks of breast cancer and proliferative benign breast disease (BBD) in postmenopausal women in the Boston area. Women whose intake of vitamin E from food sources only was high had around 60 per cent less risk of breast cancer compared to those in the low intake group. However, not all studies have shown protective effects.

Cervical cancer

Utah University researchers investigating the relationship between cervical cancer and dietary intake of antioxidant vitamins and selenium in 266 women with cervical cancer and 408 women without the disorder found that women with high vitamin E intakes had a 40 per cent lower risk of cervical cancer. Blood levels of vitamin E have also been found to be low in women with cervical cancer.

Lung cancer

Several epidemiological studies suggest that low vitamin E intakes increase the risk of lung cancer. In 1974 and 1975, researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, collected blood samples from 25,802 volunteers. They assessed vitamin E levels in samples from 436 cancer cases and 765 matched control subjects. The results showed that high vitamin E levels protected against lung cancer.

Cataracts

Low vitamin E levels may increase the risk of cataract formation. A 1996 Finnish study of over 400 men found an increased risk of cataracts in those with low vitamin E levels. The researchers evaluated the link between vitamin E levels and progression of eye lens opacities in 410 men with high cholesterol. The results showed that those with low vitamin E levels had almost four times the risk of lens opacities when compared with those in the highest intake group.

Parkinson's disease

The results of several studies suggest that high levels of vitamin E can protect against Parkinson's disease. In a 1997 study, researchers at Erasmus University Medical School in Holland examined the relationship between dietary intake of antioxidants and Parkinson's Disease and found a reduction in risk associated with high vitamin E intake. The study involved over 5300 men and women living independently and without dementia. It included 31 people with Parkinson's Disease.

Other symptoms

Low levels of vitamin E are common in those who are HIV-positive and high levels seem to be linked to slower disease progression. Vitamin E deficiency may also be involved in the development of pre-eclampsia.

 
 
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Other Vitamins:

Vitamin A
Carotenes
Beta carotene
Lycopene
Lutein
Thiamin
Riboflavin
Niacin
Vitamin B6
Folate
Vitamin B12
Biotin
Pantothenic acid
Vitamin C
Vitamin D
Vitamin E
Vitamin K