Vitamin E: deficiency, effect and food


Woman with vitamin E deficiency symptoms

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Vitamin E is essential for cell protection and function. It is also said to be able to counteract skin aging and numerous pathologies. The vitamin is found in many foods. A deficiency is therefore rare, but can cause serious health problems. What foods contain vitamin E, what is the recommended daily intake and what are the symptoms of a vitamin E deficiency or overdose?

What is Vitamin E?

Strictly speaking, vitamin E is a collective term for certain fat-soluble vitamins that the body cannot produce on its own. Therefore, they must be supplied externally via food such as vegetable oils or Nuts are fed.

This group of vitamins is also called tocopherols. A total of eight tocopherols occur naturally. The best scientifically studied is the so-called alpha-tocopherol. This is also contained in food supplements with vitamin E.

Since vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, fat is required for its absorption from the small intestine. Additionally, vitamin E is stored in body fat, the liver, and the adrenal glands.

Effect: What does the body need vitamin E for?

Vitamin E belongs just like vitamin A and Vitamin C is one of the antioxidants and is therefore an important free radical scavenger in our body. Free radicals are aggressive compounds created by chemical reactions, smoking, stress, or exposure to high-energy rays such as the sun or X-rays. They damage the body proteins and cell structure (oxidative stress). Vitamin E is therefore essential for the protection of cells and their function. It also plays an important role in the immune system.

Due to its cell protection function, the antioxidant is said to be able to slow down aging processes and reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The extent to which antioxidants such as vitamin E can actually prevent disease beyond their cell-protecting effect is scientifically controversial.

Vitamin E for skin care

As an antioxidant, vitamin E is used in many skin care products, such as creams or lotions. The cell-protecting effect is said to help improve skin surface, increase skin moisture content, and slow down the aging process. Additionally, vitamin E is said to have an anti-inflammatory effect and speed up the healing of superficial wounds.

In addition to cosmetics, the vitamin is also found in sunscreen products, as the substance can protect the skin to a certain extent from cell damage caused by UV rays.

Daily requirement of vitamin E

According to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), the recommended daily allowance of vitamin E is included 12 to 15 milligrams. Women up to the age of 65 have a daily requirement of 12 milligrams, but higher reference values ​​are valid for pregnant and breastfeeding women: the daily requirement for pregnant women is 13 and for breastfeeding women even 17 milligrams.

Furthermore, the requirement also increases in people who smoke, in people with a weakened immune system or with heart disease and in stressful phases of life.

Food: where is vitamin E found?

Vitamin E is only produced by plants, but it also finds its way into animal foods through the food chain. However, their vitamin E content is significantly lower; it is even higher in oily edible fish. Vitamin E, on the other hand, is found in large quantities in vegetable oil, wheat germ, dried fruit and green leafy vegetables.

The following is an example vitamin E content some foods per 100 grams listed:

Light and heat can cause losses during food storage and preparation, but they are usually relatively small.

vitamin E deficiency

Vitamin E is found in many foods, which is why adequate intake is usually not a problem. With a balanced diet, a deficiency is extremely rare. If too little vitamin E is taken, the body can initially mobilize the reserves of adipose tissue and the liver to compensate for the deficit. That’s why kicking Shortage symptoms often appear only after years of undersupply.

Causes of vitamin E deficiency

A vitamin E deficiency is often caused by diseases that prevent the vitamin from being absorbed or processed. These include disturbances in liver function or lipid metabolism. In the latter case, vitamin E can no longer be absorbed from the intestine.

Vitamin E deficiency can also occur in premature babies. This is because fetuses tend to gain weight, especially in the last weeks of pregnancy. This also allows them to store more vitamin E. Less vitamin E stores may be stored in premature babies, which is why they develop a deficiency more quickly.

Vitamin E Deficiency: Recognize the Symptoms

A pronounced vitamin E deficiency can trigger several symptoms. This includes:

  • Nervous system disorders, such as tremors or sensory disturbances
  • Muscle metabolism disorders with muscle weakness, muscle cramps, involuntary eye movements or paralysis of the eye muscles
  • Hemolytic anemia (anemia caused by the breakdown of red blood cells) with tiredness, lack of concentration, dizziness, or fast heartbeat
  • Damage to the retina (retinopathy), evident through visual disturbances such as reduced visual acuity or seeing flashes or sparks of light
  • increased susceptibility to infections

When it comes to vitamin E deficiency, there is no difference between men and women when it comes to symptoms.

Correct vitamin E deficiency

To correct a deficiency, vitamin E can be taken in the form of capsules or drops in different doses. These are often also available in combination with vitamins A and C, which also have an antioxidant effect. However, taking such preparations should be discussed with a doctor.

Vitamin E overdose

An overdose of vitamin E through food is not possible. Correspondingly high doses can only be achieved through prolonged and excessive intake of dietary supplements. If too much vitamin E is taken, it usually has no side effects at first. Because additional doses of dietary supplements ingested up to 30 milligrams per day are considered acceptable from a health point of view.

Taking high doses of such preparations is said to be able to prevent diseases such as arteriosclerosis, heart attacks, muscle and joint diseases, impotence, as well as stress and menopausal symptoms. However, this effect is not scientifically proven.

A Japanese study has even shown that high-dose vitamin E preparations in mice and rats cause damage to bone substance. Whether these findings also apply to humans needs to be tested in future studies. In general, plant foods high in vitamin E should be used instead of high-dose capsules.

A severe long-term overdose of 200 to 800 milligrams per day can cause symptoms such as indigestion, nausea, fatigue, headaches, and an increased bleeding tendency.

Updated: 06/28/2023

Author: Kathrin Mehner, medical editor | Jasmin Rauch, medical editor

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