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Vitamin E

We dig into the two studies that questioned vitamin E

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Vitamin E

Sitting at a warm, cozy tea shop, my friend Julie mentioned that she had stopped taking vitamin E after media coverage suggested it may be harmful. The rest of the group turned and looked at me inquisitively. Many of you may also be curious about vitamin E, so join us at the tea shop, and uncover the truth about this vitamin.

Sitting at a warm, cozy tea shop, my friend Julie mentioned that she had stopped taking vitamin E after media coverage suggested it may be harmful. The rest of the group turned and looked at me inquisitively. Many of you may also be curious about vitamin E, so join us at the tea shop, and uncover the truth about this vitamin.

“Julie, you’re right to wonder, after the media reports,” I replied. “However, there is much more to this story than the 30-second bits the reporters tell us.”

“Vitamin E is important to our health and is a recommended part of any healthy diet. It is involved in the proper function of our nerves and muscles. Vitamin E also protects essential nutrients and cells from oxidation. Without vitamin E our bodies could become deficient in some nutrients and be at greater risk of aging and disease.”

As we order another round of herbal tea, and a few organic date squares as a treat, we dig into the two studies that questioned vitamin E.

Behind the Headlines

In March 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association published results from the McMaster University HOPE study. This study involved men and women, over the age of 55, who had either heart disease or diabetes. They took 400 IU of vitamin E daily for 7 years. The study found no clear evidence that vitamin E reduced the risk of cancer in this age group and at this dose.

The study also reported an increase in heart disease risk with vitamin E supplementation. As Julie mentioned, the Canadian media reported that vitamin E increased the risk of heart disease. However, the media failed to clarify that the risk only pertains to elderly, diseased subjects, as these were the subjects of the HOPE study.

The others at my table were interested in hearing the details on the HOPE study. Between sips of tea, they mentioned hearing about another study that had made a generalized conclusion from investigating a number of vitamin E studies in what is called a meta-analysis.

This meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins University appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine in March 2005. The media reported that vitamin E increases the risk of death.

“Scientists have largely discredited this study because it combined studies that did not use consistent forms or doses of vitamin E,” I told my friends. “Also, many of the studies investigated were of short duration, and in diseased subjects.” The individual studies did not show a significant association between vitamin E and the risk of death.

A Vital Nutrient

In April 2005, another review of vitamin E studies was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It stated that after adjusting for variables, vitamin E may be a concern only to those who are seriously ill and at dosages over 2,000 IU per day. Also, a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that in healthy women the use of vitamin E supplements is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

With the date squares devoured, and the snow starting to fall outside, my friends started to wonder what it all means.

“Well,” I summarized, “vitamin E is a great antioxidant. And research suggests that, in healthy adults, vitamin E is a safe choice.” Health Canada sets the tolerable upper limit for vitamin E at 1,500 IU daily. As always, consult with a qualified medical professional about what dosage is best for you.

“But remember,” I added, “just as there are many types of tea, there are many types of vitamin E supplements. Natural vitamin E is best.” The most common supplement form is alpha-tocopherol, which has been the most researched to date.

Recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science discovered that gamma-tocopherol, another form of vitamin E, inhibits the growth of prostate cancer cells. Interestingly, the researchers found that the anti-cancer effect was enhanced when mixed forms of vitamin E were used. Thus, it appears that both individual and mixed forms of vitamin E have health benefits.

Back in the Good Books

With our tea cups empty, we turn to Julie. She says with a smile, “I judged the book by the cover. There’s a lot behind the news stories. Vitamin E is back in my good books.”

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