Recently the news carried the story that a researcher had discovered that taking vitamin E at a level of 400IU or more increases the risk of death. (Jan 2005, Annals of Internal Medicine) I was immediately suspicious because I have studied the scientific literature on vitamin E for over two decades and have come to the exact opposite conclusion. Hundreds of studies have shown the beneficial effects of vitamin E on numerous modern diseases including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers, claudication, arthritis, fibrocystic breast disease, epilepsy, infertility, intelligence you name it. This evidence comes from carefully controlled clinical trials and meta-nalyses and is published in peer-reviewed publications. So what gives with this new scoop? Why did it receive the headlines while all the other studies arent?
Actually this new information is not new at all. The researcher merely investigated mortality statistics from existing studies and came to a conclusion that people should not take 400IUs of vitamin E (exactly what I have been taking for years and recommending to others) or they may die. In effect he wrote an editorial on other peoples work. That is not science.
Although the writer conceded his conclusions may only apply to those who are already seriously ill and not to healthy people, that is the only balance given in the article. He examined 19 different vitamin E studies performed by others including almost 140,000 people. Surely it would seem statistical meaning would emerge out of that. But as science (and life) always goes, the truth is in the details details too often left out.
For example in one of the 19 studies, large doses of zinc were also given and this can create a copper deficiency which can lead to heart and other diseases. Although a copper supplement was given, it was in the form of cupric oxide, which is poorly absorbed in the gut.
In another of the studies the group being given the vitamin E were much sicker to begin with, including larger numbers of smokers and higher numbers of those with coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Of course there will be greater mortality in such a group, but it would have nothing to do with the vitamin E they were taking.
Another study was skewed by the fact that participants were also taking a synthetic form of beta-carotene, which has been linked to increased lung cancer and liver damage. You cant give vitamin E and synthetic beta-carotene to a group and blame mortality on vitamin E!
Finally, not one of the studies used the natural form of vitamin E. Vitamin E is a mixture of tocopherols: alpha, beta, gamma and delta. But only alpha- tocopheral was used. Not only that, but the synthetic isomeric form, D, L-alpha tocopherol was used in many of the studies. Natural vitamin E exists in only the D isomeric form. The synthetic L form is not produced in nature and may even interfere with the benefits of the natural D form.
The gamma-tocopherol has many proven life-lengthening and disease preventing benefits but when high levels of alpha-tocopherol are consumed these benefits may be cancelled by a kind of biochemical interference. Therefore, whatever gamma-tocopherol was being consumed in the diet may have been cancelled out by the supplements in the study.
When one is done looking at the details behind the headlines there remains no basis for suggesting that high levels of natural vitamin E are dangerous, but rather, when considering the entire body of scientific evidence, there is significant reason for believing exactly the opposite! So much for headlines.
Perhaps more important than the misleading nature of the story is the reason why it would receive top billing. News organizations seem to be fiendishly rubbing their hands together just waiting for any little tidbit that could debunk the value of supplements or a natural approach to health. (They receive huge advertising dollars from the pharmaceutical and other medical industries.) Of course the medical community is right there ready to pile on as well. They have a vested interest in maintaining the popular mindset that disease is just one of those things that happen, that people are victims of disease, and doctors are needed for repair. The notion that supplements, food, and lifestyle can prevent or cure disease threatens their grip and profitability.
Never mind that modern health care is the greatest threat to life and health, killing more people than any other cause.
Wysong e-Health Letter: June 19, 2002
Thats not worthy of news, but scaring people away from supplements based upon a flawed study is. We do not live in a rational world.
Is vitamin E supplementation necessary? No, not if you are eating a varied diet of raw, organic, natural foods, living out of doors, exercising daily and are not subject to any workplace or other environmental pollutants. If that is not how you are living, then 400IU of a natural vitamin E tocopherol mix is a very good idea. It is logical since it replaces what would be present in a natural raw diet and helps offset modern toxins, pollutants and stresses. It is also supported by a mountain of good scientific research.