Vitamin E deficiency is a condition that occurs due to the shortage of a nutrient called vitamin E in an individual’s body.
Vitamin E is a critical antioxidant in the body that protects an individual’s cells from incurring damage from free radicals, which are unstable atoms that play a role in the pathogenesis of numerous diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
A vitamin E deficiency can be caused by disorders that affect the way the body absorbs fat from food, such as gallbladder disorders, cystic fibrosis, liver disorders, and pancreatitis.
Vitamin E deficiency can also result from an insufficient intake of foods with vitamin E. A physical examination and blood tests are utilized in making a diagnosis of vitamin E deficiency. Treatment for this type of deficiency focuses on replacing the missing vitamin E in the body.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitamin E Deficiency
Several symptoms can be indicative of a vitamin E deficiency. Learn about them now.
1. Deterioration of Vision
A deficiency of vitamin E in an individual can affect the way their retina functions. The retina is a component in an individual’s eye that contains millions of cells with a particular sensitivity for light.
These cells can be classified as rods or cones. Rods function to help produce monochrome vision when the individual is in an environment with low light, while cones produce an individual’s sharp central vision.
Healthy levels of vitamin E in an individual help protect the membranes of these light-sensitive cells in the retina from incurring damage and undergoing adverse alterations caused by a sequence of oxidative events.
A patient who has a vitamin E deficiency can experience central degeneration of the cells in their retina, which manifests as a progressive loss of vision over an extended duration. This vision loss may be reversible in some patients who receive prompt and proper medical treatment.
2. Peripheral Neuropathy
The peripheral nervous system is the nerve network that connects an individual’s spinal cord and brain to the rest of their body, including their arms, legs, hands, feet, internal organs, mouth, and face.
The nerves within this system are responsible for delivering signals to the brain that contain information about physical sensation.
The nerves of the peripheral nervous system are made out of polyunsaturated fats, cholesterol, and other substances, all of which are greatly vulnerable to damage from oxidative stress. Vitamin E is the primary and most abundant source of antioxidants in a healthy individual’s body.
These antioxidants have a protective effect on the nerve cells of an individual’s peripheral nervous system, preventing damage from oxidative stress.
However, an individual with low vitamin E will experience damage to these peripheral nerves over time due to a lack of the protective antioxidant effects of the vitamin. Peripheral neuropathy manifests as numbness and or tingling in a patient’s feet or hands.
3. Muscle Weakness
With the absence of vitamin E, there is a significant influx of calcium gluconate into the individual’s muscle cells. Muscle movements require ATP, the primary form of energy used by the cells.
The mitochondria are the organelles inside of the cells responsible for taking nutrients and synthesizing them into ATP. However, calcium gluconate can overwhelm the mitochondria and cause them to become functionally compromised.
The mitochondria in the individual’s muscle cells are then unable to produce enough ATP to meet the muscle tissue demands. This malfunction eventually causes a patient’s muscles to degenerate over time.
This muscle degeneration is the reason an affected individual will experience muscle weakness. This symptom of vitamin E deficiency can become life-threatening if the myocardium or heart muscle becomes affected by the degenerative effects of a vitamin E deficiency.
4. Coordination Issues
Coordination issues can be described as an individual’s inability to coordinate different voluntary movements of the body. The loss of coordination in affected individuals can manifest as difficulty with walking and an abnormal unsteady gait.
An affected individual may appear to stagger or lurch when they are walking. Trembling may be apparent in an affected individual when they are standing.
An affected individual may have an increased tendency to drop objects they are holding and experience difficulty with simple tasks that involve the use of their hands. Vitamin E deficiency has the most prominent effect on an individual’s cerebellum and certain nerves called Purkinje neurons.
Without the protective effects of vitamin E in these neurons and the cerebellum, there is an increase in the amount of oxidative stress and nerve damage.
This type of vitamin deficiency also disables the dendritic branching of the Purkinje neurons in affected individuals, which results in difficulty with motor coordination.
5. General Malaise
General malaise can be best described as a feeling of unwellness and fatigue. This symptom occurs as the result of hemolytic anemia precipitated from vitamin E deficiency. An increase in erythrocyte fragility is implicated in the development of anemia in affected individuals.
Erythrocyte fragility refers to a decreased ability of the red blood cells to resist breakdown when under stress, causing the red blood cells to become extremely vulnerable to destruction in states of oxidative stress.
The faster and easier destruction of red blood cells due to the absence of vitamin E can cause a decrease in a patient’s red blood cell count.
Low numbers of functioning red blood cells cause an inability to sufficiently carry and deliver oxygen to all of the tissues in the body. This mechanism causes the affected individual to feel malaise, fatigue, and weakness.