Vitamin E deficiency may cause impaired reflexes and coordination, difficulty walking, and weak muscles.
Premature infants with the deficiency may develop a serious form of anemia.
The diagnosis is based on symptoms and results of a physical examination.
Taking vitamin E supplements corrects the deficiency.
Vitamin E (tocopherol) is an antioxidant: It protects cells against damage by free radicals, which are by-products of normal cell activity and which participate in chemical reactions within cells. Some of these reactions can be harmful. (See also Overview of Vitamins Overview of Vitamins Vitamins are a vital part of a healthy diet. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA)—the amount most healthy people need each day to remain healthy—has been determined for most vitamins. A safe... read more .)
Vitamin E, like vitamins A, D, and K, is a fat-soluble vitamin Fat-soluble vitamins Vitamins are a vital part of a healthy diet. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA)—the amount most healthy people need each day to remain healthy—has been determined for most vitamins. A safe... read more , which dissolves in fat and is best absorbed when eaten with some fat. Good sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, and wheat germ.
Newborns have a relatively low reserve of vitamin E because only small amounts of vitamin E cross the placenta. Thus, newborns, particularly premature newborns, are at increased risk of vitamin E deficiency. However, with age, risk decreases because infants usually get enough vitamin E in breast milk or in commercial formulas. Adults can store large amounts of vitamin E in fat tissue, making the deficiency less likely.
A very low fat diet lacks vitamin E, because vegetable oils are the main source of this vitamin and because vitamin E is best absorbed when eaten with some fat. Disorders that impair fat absorption (such as certain liver disorders Overview of Liver Disease Liver disease can manifest in many different ways. Characteristic manifestations include Jaundice (a yellowish discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes) Cholestasis (reduction or stoppage... read more , gallbladder disorders Overview of Gallbladder and Bile Duct Disorders The liver produces bile, a greenish yellow, thick, sticky fluid. Bile aids digestion by making cholesterol, fats, and fat-soluble vitamins easier to absorb from the intestine. Bile also helps... read more , pancreatitis Overview of Pancreatitis Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas is a leaf-shaped organ about 5 inches (about 13 centimeters) long. It is surrounded by the lower edge of the stomach and the first... read more , and cystic fibrosis Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease that causes certain glands to produce abnormally thick secretions, resulting in tissue and organ damage, especially in the lungs and the digestive tract... read more ) can also reduce the absorption of vitamin E and increase the risk of vitamin E deficiency.
In the United States and other developed countries, vitamin E deficiency is rare among older children and adults and is usually due to
In developing countries, the most common cause of vitamin E deficiency is
In children, symptoms may include slow reflexes, difficulty walking, loss of coordination, loss of position sense (knowing where the limbs are without looking at them), and muscle weakness.
In adults with vitamin E deficiency due to a malabsorption disorder, these symptoms rarely develop because adults store large amounts of vitamin E in fat (adipose) tissue.
Vitamin E deficiency can cause a form of anemia in which red blood cells rupture (hemolytic anemia Anemia due to excessive red blood cell destruction Anemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells is low. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that enables them to carry oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to all parts... read more ). Premature infants who have a vitamin E deficiency are at risk of this serious disorder.
In premature infants, bleeding (hemorrhage) may occur within the brain, and blood vessels in the eyes may grow abnormally (a disorder called retinopathy of prematurity Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) Retinopathy of prematurity is a disorder of premature infants in which the small blood vessels in the back of the eye (retina) grow abnormally. Retinopathy of prematurity is strongly associated... read more ). Affected newborns also have weak muscles.
Treatment of vitamin E deficiency involves taking vitamin E supplements by mouth.
Premature newborns may be given supplements to prevent disorders from developing. Most full-term newborns do not need supplements, because they get enough vitamin E in breast milk or commercial formulas.