Vitamin E is an essential nutrient involved in cellular signaling as well as control over dilation of your blood vessels. It is also an antioxidant, helping to protect your body from chemicals linked to cellular aging. A vitamin E deficiency can prove harmful to your health, and doctors can perform a number of tests to diagnose this deficiency.
Alpha-Tocopherol Blood Levels
The most commonly used test to help identify a vitamin E deficiency is assessing the level of alpha-tocopherol in your bloodstream. Alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active form of vitamin E, so physicians measure the levels of this form of the vitamin to determine your cells' exposure to vitamin E. During an alpha-tocopherol blood test, your doctor will compare the levels of alpha-tocopherol to the total levels of fats, or lipids, in your bloodstream. An abnormally low relative level of alpha-tocopherol indicates a deficiency, which your doctor can then treat with vitamin E supplements.
Red Blood Cell Hemolysis
One type of indirect blood test to assess the possibility of a vitamin E deficiency is a test to measure the levels of red blood cell hemolysis. Normally, vitamin E in your body helps to stabilize your red blood cells, preventing hemolysis, or cellular bursting. Individuals with vitamin E deficiency often have higher levels of red blood cell hemolysis, since the absence of vitamin E leads to fragile and breakable red blood cells. If your doctor identifies high levels of red blood cell hemolysis, she might perform an alpha-tocopherol blood test to definitely diagnose a vitamin E deficiency.
Some individuals prove especially susceptible to a vitamin E deficiency due to genetic disorders. For example, mutations to the alpha-tocopherol transfer protein -- a protein that allows for proper vitamin E absorption and processing -- can cause a genetic disorder called AVED, characterized by vitamin E deficiency. Genetic testing can identify individuals with genetic mutations likely to cause vitamin E deficiency to potentially identify a deficiency before it can cause serious health effects.
Effects of a Vitamin E Deficiency
If left undiagnosed and untested, a vitamin E deficiency can seriously harm your health. Although severe deficiencies do not generally occur in healthy individuals, a severe vitamin E deficiency due to underlying diseases can damage your nervous system. This nerve damage can affect your vision and ability to control muscle movement can can inhibit your sense of touch. If you suffer from a disease that increases your risk of a vitamin E deficiency -- such as liver disease, AVED or cystic fibrosis -- consult a doctor to receive regular vitamin E testing.