Vitamin E – Roles, Deficiency, & Sources


If you have suffered from poor skin and hair, chances are that someone has recommended you topical application or ingestion of Vitamin E capsules as a remedy. Ever wondered why Vitamin E has been trustworthy all these years? Vitamin E is a family of 8 fat-soluble compounds that can be divided into two sub-divisions: tocopherols and tocotrienols. Out of these 8 compounds, α-tocopherol is the most active and important since the human body tends to accumulate and absorb it over others. Vitamin E is also a potent antioxidant.

Research on Vitamin E over the last few years has shown that Vitamin E wide applications ranging from beauty to general health. It performs the following functions in the body:

Functions of Vitamin E

1. Potent antioxidant

Vitamin E is known for its potent antioxidizing action. It combats oxidative stress by neutralizing the free radicals produced in the body’s metabolic processes and environmental factors. Oxidative stress is the imbalance between concentrations of free radicals and antioxidants and can cause lasting damages in the body.

There are times when red blood cells burst and flush their cytoplasm in the blood plasma in a process called haemolysis. Vitamin E can help in preventing haemolysis [1].

2. Maintenance and repair of skin

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and has shown anti-inflammatory properties as well. Owing to the twin properties Vitamin E helps to revitalize skin. Consequently, Vitamin E finds multiple applications in skincare in the form of topical ointments, cream, oil, etc. Treatment of brown spots, scars, dark circles and sunburn using Vitamin E oil or capsules is a common household practice. Vitamin E is also used in anti-ageing cream because it promotes healthy skin by reversing early signs of aging. It also acts as a moisturizer, cleansing agent, and softens chapped lips.

3. Maintain reproductive health

Infertility is a common problem in both the sexes, but Vitamin E has been found to help maintain the health of human reproductive systems. Vitamin E is sometimes referred to as ‘anti-sterility factor’. Vitamin E maintains the germinal lining and Leydig cells in seminiferous tubules [2]. Additionally, it is also believed to safeguard the female reproductive system from harmful habits like smoking by tackling the resultant oxidative stress and ensuring proper embryonic development [3].

4. Other Functions

Ongoing researches on Vitamin E has ave shown that it might play a role in cholesterol management, protection against cancer, and trauma-induced dementia. However, the jury is still out on the role of Vitamin E and further research is needed to cement Vitamin E functions.

  1. Protection against cancer
    While angiogenesis is an important process wherein new blood vessels form, it contributes to the development of cancer by delivering fresh blood to tumours. Research into the tocopherol family has shown that the antioxidant properties of Vitamin E have antiangiogenic effects that work by inhibiting HMG CoA reductase enzyme, a precursor to cholesterol synthesis [4].
  2. Mitigation of trauma-induced dementia
    Traumatic brain injuries are associated with early onset of dementia, and oxidative stress is believed to be the main mechanism that contributes to neuron and neuroglia damage. Vitamin E, owing to its antioxidant properties, has shown potential therapeutic properties that can alleviate symptoms in affected patients [5].

Vitamin E Deficiency

Vitamin E can be stored in large amounts in our adipose tissues. Therefore, in case of deficiency, the body can tap into the reserves. Also, Vitamin E daily requirement can be easily fulfilled through a balanced diet. The deficiency of Vitamin E usually is a result of underlying problems in the digestion and metabolism of those affected, like Crohn’s disease or pancreatitis. A deficiency in the vitamin can lead to issues like:

1. Haemolytic Anaemia

Deficiency of Vitamin E can cause Haemolytic Anaemia [6]. It is a condition in which oxidative damage to red blood cells prompts abnormal rupturing. This leads to fatigue, shortness of breath, jaundice and in the long term, gallstones and pulmonary hypertension. Premature infants deficient are at a higher risk of developing this disorder.

2. Weakened muscles

Vitamin E is instrumental in the healing and repair of plasma membranes of cells. In the absence of Vitamin E, natural wear and tear of muscles in our body over a longer period can result in weakened or wasted muscles. The outcome is known as myopathy, a clinical term referring to the improper functioning of muscles due to defects within the muscle. Studies have reported that a diet poor in Vitamin E can add to the frailty and unsteadiness in the elderly, who may already have low reserves of adipose tissues [7].

How to combat Vitamin E deficiency

Indian Council of Medical Research recommends 8-10 mg of Vitamin E as Recommended Dietary Allowance for Indians. If you want to reap the benefits of this antioxidant powerhouse, consider including the following in your diet:

  1. Vegetable oils
    If you use the correct oils for cooking, you can stock up on the RDA for Vitamin E quite easily. 100 g of Sunflower oils pack as much as 41.1 mg Vitamin E. Almond oil provides 39.2 mg, canola oil provides 17.5 mg, palm oil provides 15.9 mg and olive oil provides 14.3 mg of Vitamin E per 100 g. Few tablespoons of these oil in the daily cooking are enough to provide the recommended dose of Vitamin E.
  2. Green leafy veggies and fruits
    The chlorophyll in leaves is central to plant’s photosynthetic activity, during which the plant also synthesizes Vitamin E for its antioxidant use. Therefore, green leafy vegetables are a great source of Vitamin E. Turnip with 2.9 mg, spinach with 2 mg, and avocado with 2.1 mg Vitamin E per 100 g portion size are some of the rich sources of Vitamin E.
  3. Nuts and seeds
    As if there weren’t enough reasons to munch on these healthy snacking options, nuts and seeds are packed with Vitamin E goodness. Nuts and seeds are excellent yet underrated sources of this vitamin. A 100 g serving of almonds mixes in 26.2 mg Vitamin E i.e. almost 2.5 times daily RDA. Other Vitamin E rich nuts include brazil nuts with 5.7 mg, peanuts with 4.9 mg of Vitamin E per 100 g serving.
  4. Pulses
    Lentils, the quintessential Indian ingredient, are reserves of tocopherol. Expect 100 g of cooked brown and green lentils to satiate 35-40% of your RDA [8].

In Conclusion…

From reversing myopathy to invigorating the skin, Vitamin E is a versatile and indispensable nutrient. Vitamin E is sensitive to light i.e. it degrades by photo-oxidation. That means when you’re basking in the sun for your Vitamin D requirements, UV rays are destroying Vitamin E levels in your body. However, there is no need for alarm as Vitamin E is amply available for consumption through dietary sources and can be stored as body reserves as well.

[1] Erythrocyte Hemolysis, Lipid Peroxidation, and Vitamin E, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 20, Issue 2, February 1962, Pages 60–62
[2] Zubair M. Effects of dietary vitamin E on the male reproductive system. Asian Pac J Reprod, 2017;6:145-50
[3] Mohd Mutalip SS, Ab-Rahim S, Rajikin MH. Vitamin E as an Antioxidant in Female Reproductive Health. Antioxidants (Basel). 2018;7(2):22. Published 2018 Jan 26.
[4] Annette Abraham, Ajoe John Kattoor, Tom Saldeen & Jawahar L. Mehta (2019) Vitamin E and its anticancer effects, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 59:17, 2831-2838
[5] Dobrovolny, J., Smrcka, M. & Bienertova-Vasku, Therapeutic potential of vitamin E and its derivatives in traumatic brain injury-associated dementia, J. Neurol Sci (2018) 39: 989
[6] Frank A. Oski, Lewis A. Barness, Hemolytic Anemia in Vitamin E Deficiency, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 21, Issue 1, January 1968, Pages 45–50
[7] Mohamed Labazi, Anna K. McNeil, Timothy Kurtz, et. al, The antioxidant requirement for plasma membrane repair in skeletal muscle, Free Radical Biology and Medicine, Volume 84, 2015, Pages 246-253
[8] Margier M, Georgé S, Hafnaoui N, et al. Nutritional Composition and Bioactive Content of Legumes: Characterization of Pulses Frequently Consumed in France and Effect of the Cooking Method. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1668.

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