What Causes Vitamin E Deficiency?

Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2021
vitamin e deficiency
Vitamin E deficiency is more commonly seen in newborn babies in the United States, however, adults can also develop a deficiency due to the following.

Vitamin E deficiency is more common in newborn babies than in adults and older children, and the condition is almost rare in the latter group in the United States.

Newborns get all their nutrition from the placenta, and very small amounts of vitamin E pass through it. Since their bodies cannot store enough vitamin E compared to adults, newborns are more likely to suffer from vitamin E deficiency. As they grow, they get their vitamin E from sources, such as fortified milk, which lowers their risk of a deficiency.

Though rare, causes of vitamin E deficiency in adults include:

  • Disorders that impair fat absorption
    • Certain liver disorders
    • Gallbladder disorders
    • Pancreatitis
    • Crohn’s disease
    • Short bowel syndrome
  • Rare genetic diseases
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Inadequate intake of vitamin E (in developing countries)
  • Congenital vitamin E deficiency in infants (improves with vitamin E supplementation)

Although vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, people do not need to consume vitamin E and fat for its proper absorption.

What are the symptoms of vitamin E deficiency?

Vitamin E deficiency can produce different symptoms in children and adults.

Children usually exhibit signs and symptoms of vitamin E deficiency that include:

In premature infants, the effects of vitamin E deficiency can cause problems, including:

  • Hemolytic anemia (a type of anemia due to the increased breakdown of red blood cells)
  • Brain hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eye seen in premature babies)

Adults rarely develop vitamin E deficiency because their fat can store the vitamin. Only when the deficiency becomes severe and lasts for a prolonged period, adult patients may experience signs and symptoms that include:

  • Severe muscle weakness
  • Loss of balance
  • Problems with vision
  • Complete blindness
  • Cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm or heartbeats)
  • Dementia (progressive loss of memory)

How is vitamin E deficiency diagnosed?

Doctors will take a complete medical history, look for the signs and symptoms, evaluate risk factors and perform a physical examination to determine whether the person has vitamin E deficiency or not.

The doctor may order blood tests that may help them rule out other conditions. These may include blood tests to measure the level of vitamin E to confirm the diagnosis of a deficiency


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How do you treat vitamin E deficiency?

Always consult a doctor if you suspect vitamin E deficiency. Do not start any supplementation, including vitamin E supplements without medical advice.

Adults and children aged 14 years and older need 15 mg of vitamin E per day. The doctor will prescribe vitamin E dosages needed for the person to correct the deficiency.

Vitamin E intake can be obtained from food sources, including:

  • Nuts
    • Almonds
    • Walnuts
  • Seeds, such as sunflower seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Wheat germ and wheat germ oil
  • Fortified milk
  • Fortified cereals
  • Vegetable oils, such as
    • Sunflower
    • Soy
    • Olive
  • Whole grains
  • Green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach
  • Eggs

Treatments using vitamin E supplements

  • The doctor may advise oral vitamin E supplements if a person has developed severe issues due to the vitamin E deficiency.
  • For premature newborns, vitamin E supplements could be prescribed as a preventive measure against vitamin E deficiency.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/20/2021
Caplan GE. Vitamin E Deficiency. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/126187-overview