Vitamin E deficiency occurs quite frequently as this nutrient is one of the most problematic to obtain through diet alone. Only a tine fraction of Americans consume enough dietary vitamin E to meet the required daily average of 15 mg per day. Sources of dietary vitamin E include nuts, seeds, spinach, wheat germ and sunflower oil.
“Many people believe that vitamin E deficiency never happens,” Traber said. “That isn’t true. It happens with an alarming frequency both in the United States and around the world. But some of the results of inadequate intake are less obvious, such as its impact on things like nervous system and brain development, or general resistance to infection.”
The review analysis published in Advances in Nutrition revealed the most critical elements for vitamin E.
Among the most important are the significance of vitamin E during fetal development and in the first years of life; the correlation between adequate intake and dementia later in life; and the difficulty of evaluating vitamin E adequacy through measurement of blood levels alone.
Inadequate vitamin E is associated with increased infection, anemia, stunting of growth and poor outcomes during pregnancy for both the infant and mother.
Overt deficiency, especially in children, can cause neurological disorders, muscle deterioration, and even cardiomyopathy.
Studies with experimental animals indicate that vitamin E is critically important to the early development of the nervous system in embryos, in part because it protects the function of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, which is important for brain health. The most sensitive organs include the head, eye and brain.
One study showed that higher vitamin E concentrations at birth were associated with improved cognitive function in two-year-old children.
Findings about diseases that are increasing in the developed world, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and diabetes, suggest that obesity does not necessarily reflect adequate micronutrient intake.
Measures of circulating vitamin E levels in the blood often rise with age as lipid levels also increase, but do not prove an adequate delivery of vitamin E to tissues and organs.
Vitamin E supplements do not seem to prevent Alzheimer’s disease occurrence, but have shown benefit in slowing its progression.
A report in elderly humans showed that a lifelong dietary pattern that resulted in higher levels of vitamins B,C, D and E were associated with a larger brain size and higher cognitive function.
Vitamin E protects critical fatty acids such as DHA throughout life, and one study showed that people in the top quartile of DHA concentrations had a 47 percent reduction in the risk of developing all-cause dementia.
“It’s important all of your life, but the most compelling evidence about vitamin E is about a 1000-day window that begins at conception,” Traber said. “Vitamin E is critical to neurologic and brain development that can only happen during that period. It’s not something you can make up for later.”
Maret Traber. Vitamin E Inadequacy in Humans: Causes and Consequences. Advances in Nutrition, September 2014