Vitamin E: Fat-Soluble Vitamin Deficiency & Toxicity Symptoms

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  • 0:03 Vitamin E
  • 1:14 Deficiency
  • 3:43 Toxicity
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant. Vitamin E deficiency can cause cell membranes to break down and lead to hemolytic anemia. Learn why this is a problem for premature infants, and also learn about symptoms of toxicity, in this lesson.

Vitamin E

If any of the vitamins needed by your body qualified as a superhero, it would be vitamin E. I say this because vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects your cell membranes from harm. Vitamin E's villain would be free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that are missing an electron. These villainous free radicals go berserk inside your body, madly searching for an extra electron to grab a hold of to make them feel more stable. As they bounce around on their search, they cause damage to everything they run into, resulting in damage to your cells.

Our superhero, vitamin E, is capable of donating electrons to the free radicals. This calms the free radicals down and stops their mad dash of destruction through your body. So, the more vitamin E superheroes you have in your body, the fewer free radical villains you have creating problems. Now, you might be thinking that you should pump your body full of vitamin E. Well, before we get too far ahead of ourselves let's learn a little more about vitamin E and what happens inside of you when there is too much or too little of this important vitamin.


Because vitamin E is needed to protect your cell membranes, a vitamin E deficiency causes cell membranes to break down. Let's take a look at just what this means for your health. If the cell membranes that break down are the ones that belong to your red blood cells, you could develop hemolytic anemia, which is a type of anemia characterized by the destruction of red blood cells.

This is an easy term to recall if you remember that the prefix 'hemo-' refers to blood and the ending '-lytic' refers to destruction. So hemolytic anemia is literally 'blood cell destruction.' We know that it's your red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body. If your red blood cells are destroyed, then you suffer from anemia, which means you do not have enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen.

Hemolytic anemia due to vitamin E deficiency is most common in premature infants. This is because the transfer of vitamin E from mom to fetus does not happen until the final few weeks of pregnancy. If the baby comes early and does not make it to full term, then it's likely that the child will be born before the vitamin can be transferred. Premature infants often receive special formulas to make up for the deficiency.

As for adults, vitamin E deficiency is rare. The vitamin can be obtained in your diet via natural food sources, such as nuts, seeds, and plant oils (like safflower oil and sunflower oil). There is also some vitamin E provided through leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and mustard greens. And, if you are not a nut or veggie fan, then you can find a number of breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin E.

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