Vitamin E exists in eight different forms, the most active form being alpha-tocopherol. It is a fat soluble nurtrient. Vitamin E is an antioxidant which protects the body cells against the effects of free radicals, which are by-products of energy metabolism. These radicals damage the body cells and can be the cause of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Deficiency of vitamin E occurs very rarely. But, when it does occur, it results in damage to the nerves. Vitamin E is usually found in food items like vegetable oil that contain fat. So, the deficiency of vitamin E generally occurs in people with diseases that prevent the absorption of dietary fats due to an inability to secret bile.
Deficiency of the vitamin may occur in infants with low birth weight too, as they have a poorly developed capacity for absorbing fats. Studies have found that there are high chances of developing asthma in children if their mother when pregnant, was deficient in vitamin E.
Deficiency of vitamin E can also cause nerve disorders, cancer and cardiovascular disorders. It causes anemia in infants.
Vitamin E protects the membranes of the nerve cells. In case of deficiency of vitamin E, the membranes of the nerves get damaged by the toxins in the body.
Diseases like cystic fibrosis, cholestasis and pancreatitis result in a reduction in the secretion of bile salts. Reduction of the secretion of bile salts will hinder the absorption of dietary fats. As vitamin E usually occurs in dietary fats, a problem with its absorption will lead to its deficiency.
Vitamin E deficiency causes AVED (Ataxia and Vitamin E Deficiency) is a disease affecting the coordination of nerves and muscles. It also affects other systems of the body and causes several disorders affecting the muscles of the eye and the heart. Inability to walk is a severe symptom of deficiency of vitamin E.
As vitamin E is found in a variety of foods, a deficiency can be prevented with a balanced diet.
Deficiency of vitamin E in infants may require only a few weeks to be treated. And a deficiency that occurs with cholestatic liver disease or malabsorption syndromes, may be treated with injections of 100 mg alpha-tocopherol every week. The RDA for vitamin E is 8-10 mg /day and 3 mg/day for infants.