Vitamin E Health Risks
Vitamin E Health Risks
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient, but for it to perform its important functions in the body smoothly in synergy with other essential nutrients, it is important to consume it in the recommended amounts. Either too little or too much vitamin E can be harmful.
Vitamin E deficiency is serious because the body is highly dependent on the high level of antioxidant protection this vitamin is capable of providing. Vitamin E plays a major role in protecting cell membranes from damage from the oxidation of free radicals. Without this protection, the wear and tear on the cells and tissues takes its toll on the whole body. If vitamin E deficiency is allowed to progress, the neuromuscular, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal function may all be impaired.
One of the more serious health risks that occur when the body does not receive enough vitamin E is hemolytic anemia. Hemolytic anemia is a condition that develops when the red blood cells die faster than the bone marrow can produce new ones. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a widespread outbreak of hemolytic anemia in infants due to formulas that were high in polyunsaturated fatty acid content but inadequate in vitamin E content. Even though, all infant formulas must now be fortified with vitamin E, hemolytic anemia is still possible among people of any age who, for one reason or another, have depleted vitamin E levels.
Mild hemolytic anemia might not produce any noticeable symptoms, but as the condition progresses, the most common symptoms include the following:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Confusion and difficulty concentrating
- Pale skin
Other symptoms that might develop in more severe cases include shortness of breath, increased heart rate, and an enlarged spleen and liver. Hemolytic anemia is treatable, but severe hemolytic anemia can be fatal if not treated promptly.
Although vitamin E is less likely than some other vitamins to be highly toxic if too much is taken, the possibility still exists. This is particularly true for those who have other medical conditions for which they are taking prescribed medications which may interact with vitamin E. For example, individuals who are taking anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin or Coumadin might be at risk of excessive bleeding if they also take a vitamin E supplement due to the fact that vitamin E is a blood thinner itself. Individuals with high blood pressure are also at risk because excessive amounts of this vitamin can raise their blood pressure even more.
Excessive doses of vitamin E can also have other adverse effects on body function, including muscle weakness, digestive disturbances, and impaired thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal gland functioning. Another problem is that very high doses of vitamin E interfere with the body’s ability to utilize other essential fat-soluble nutrients effectively and may even create a deficiency in these nutrients. Lastly, there is mounting evidence that excessive doses of vitamin E, rather than being immuno-protective and cardio-protective, are immunosuppressive and even linked to increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular-related mortality. There is no evidence that taking high doses of vitamin E simply to delay the effects of aging or for the purpose of trying to prevent heart disease, cancer or any other disorder offers any extra protection over the recommended daily allowance, and it could be harmful. Self-medication with vitamin E or increasing the dose over the recommended amount could actually be more dangerous than a person might initially realize since the symptoms of toxicity might take a long time to develop.