Is There Anything to Those Stories About the Dangers of Vitamin E?
An overdose can kill. Too much will cause prostate cancer. It raises the risk of premature death.
The findings of several studies in recent years have given rise to alarming headlines alerting us to the perils of taking vitamin E supplements.
These overblown reports of danger do a disservice to an essential dietary nutrient. This is what you need to know about vitamin E.
Offers Powerful Health Protection
Vitamin E comprises a group of fat-soluble compounds called tocopherols and tocotrienols found in leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and the germ from whole wheat.
Few people eat enough of these foods. That’s why nine out of ten Americans are deficient.1
Vitamin E’s best known and recognized benefit is to function as a potent antioxidant in cell membranes.
It protects and preserves the function of polyunsaturated fatty acids including the omega 6 and omega 3 fats that are so essential for brain function and cardiovascular health.
E also interacts with more than 400 genes. Lab research suggests the vitamin affects gene expression as well as cell signaling. These are newly discovered roles which imply that vitamin E has much broader effects than we are currently aware of.
A collaboration of researchers from different centers in Italy, Greece and the USA wrote that vitamin E “protects against cancer, improves immune response, lowers the incidence of infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases and is protective in allergy and asthma…”2
Safe Even in High Doses
The recommended daily amount is 22.4 IU. The amount commonly found in vitamin E supplements is 400 IU. Yet the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academy of Sciences puts the upper limit — the amount that can be safely taken over long periods — as 1,500 IU of the natural form or 1,100 of the synthetic form of the vitamin. (Needless to say, I recommend the natural form.)
Can it increase the risk of premature death?
Researchers from the University of Kentucky looked at 57 trials that included nearly a quarter of a million people taking up to 5,500 IU a day for periods ranging from one to ten years. The researchers found no evidence that it caused premature death.3
Can it increase the risk of cancer?
In a large trial of 14,641 US male physicians taking either a placebo or 400 IU every other day for ten years, researchers found the supplement had no effect on the incidence of prostate cancer, other site-specific cancers or total cancers.4
Best Forms of Vitamin E
A few isolated negative reports should not detract from the value of vitamin E. It’s almost certain that any bad consequences from taking supplements are for the following reasons.
- The body can handle the natural form of the vitamin far better than the synthetic form (look for d alpha tocopherol on the label; avoid synthetic dl alpha tocopherol).
- Vitamin E is a family of eight nutrients. Studies almost always use alpha tocopherol alone. But there are alpha, beta, gamma and delta versions of both tocopherols and tocotrienols. Each member of the family has unique health properties. For maximum benefit and minimum danger, taking all eight as a supplement is much preferred.
These may have to be purchased in two pills – a mixed tocopherol with all four forms, and a mixed tocotrienol with all four (alpha, beta, gamma and delta).
Natural and complex forms of vitamin E cost more, but are worth the extra expense. You know you’re consuming something of genuine merit.
When the next shock headline appears about the dangers of vitamin E, you’ll be able to disregard it. The study was almost surely conducted on people who only took one of the eight forms, alpha tocopherol – and maybe synthetic to boot.