Keep taking vitamin E, say experts

If you’ve got a list of resolutions for the New Year, one of them should be to keep taking a daily vitamin E supplement. That’s the advice of a growing number of health experts in response to a recent highly publicized report suggesting vitamin E may be harmful in larger doses. These scientists say the public has been poorly served by the study’s authors and by the media who sensationalized their findings. In fact, many of them are concerned that people may put themselves at greater risk by taking the results seriously.

“Vitamin E is such an important antioxidant,” says Barbara Levine, PhD, director of the Nutrition Information Center and associate professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. “If consumers base their lifestyles on this inconclusive meta-analysis, we could see an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancers and age-related macular degeneration in an otherwise healthy population.”

Study Shortcomings

A closer look at the vitamin E meta-analysis reveals some important points that weren’t widely reported in the media, says revered nutrition expert Dr Julian Whitaker, MD:

“First, the participants in this review of studies were already suffering from a wide range of medical conditions from heart disease and cancer to kidney disease and Alzheimer’s. As the researchers themselves admitted, it’s impossible to ascertain if results would be the same in a healthy population.”

Whitaker also finds the statistical analysis to be suspect.

“Only nine of the 19 studies focused solely on vitamin E, while 10 looked at vitamin E combined with other vitamins and minerals. Thus, any outcome can hardly be conclusive.”

Whitaker and others point out other confounding factors: no distinction was made in the analysis between natural and synthetic forms of vitamin E, and many of the 19 studies used actually showed health benefits from taking vitamin E.

To E or not to E

“I emphatically believe that not only is the use of vitamin E safe, but highly therapeutic,” says Dr Whitaker. Other experts agree. When asked if people should continue taking the vitamin, Dr Maret Traber, a vitamin E expert at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, stated, “Absolutely yes.”

The Council for Responsible Nutrition notes that clinical trails on vitamin E are currently underway at Harvard University and the National Cancer Institute. “These studies are continuing, despite the meta-analysis, because the principal investigators remain confident in the safety of vitamin E,” they said.

Sources: Council for Responsible Nutrition (www.crnusa.org); Julian Whitaker, MD (www.drwhitaker.com); Dietary Supplement Information Bureau (www.supplementinfo.org)