Vitamin E Side Effects - What Is the Truth?

Did you see the news a few months ago about vitamin E side effects?

In November of 2004 and for months after the news media ran headlines claiming that people who take vitamin E run a risk of dying sooner than people who don't. These stories came hot on the heels of other news items alleging similar scenarios for other vitamins as well. The problem with these stories about the studies is that most writers haven't read them (or at least don't follow the math). And the stories seem to suggest that vitamin E isn't good for

  • Lowering heart disease risk
  • Reducing the intensity of asthma attacks
  • Preventing chronic inflammation caused by allergy or eczema
  • Lowering the risk of breast and prostate cancer
  • Enhancing cognitive health and even
  • Stopping hot flashes

as millions have believe it to be.

Here's some background vitamin E side effects study:

The vitamin E side effects study was carried out by researchers at the highly respected Johns Hopkins University in the United States and published in the also highly respected Annals of Internal Medicine. In this study, the researchers studied statistics, not people. They examined 19 different vitamin E side effects studies conducted between 1966 and 2004 and combined their findings with a statistical method called meta-analysis.

Meta-analysis is a quantitative method that removes a factor in data analysis called "sampling error." If you can find enough studies that you have at least 1450 "samples," then you can combine the numbers and remove any "noise" that might be attributed to the peculiarities of how the researchers chose participants for their studies.

Or at least that's the theory. If the 19 researchers of vitamin E side effects had all limited their studies to men aged 32 who had blond hair and blue eyes named John Jones all of whom ate McDonald's every day and all of whom were married and had 1.7 children, meta-analysis would eliminate sampling error. The result might not apply to anyone who isn't 32 years old and a man named John Jones who eats at McDonald's every day, but the numbers would be statistically significant.

If the 19 researchers had all accidentally given their subjects vitamin B instead of vitamin E, meta-analysis would give you a result without sampling error. The findings would have nothing to do with vitamin E or alleged vitamin E side effects, but the probability of real effect of whatever it was, doing whatever it did, would be nearly 100%. What meta-analysis cannot do is to compensate for any limitations in studies except the number of participants.

Meta-analyses aren't necessarily objective. There have been at least 1,098 clinical studies of vitamin E and vitamin E side effects. The authors of this meta-analysis chose to analyze just 19.

As an author of meta-analyses for publication in academic journals (and as a researcher referenced in the Annals of Internal Medicine), this contributing editor can tell you that meta-analyses aren't published because they are objective. They are published because they are interesting. Everybody knows that vitamin E is good for your health. A study would have to contradict the common wisdom and claim horrible vitamin E side effects to make headlines. That's what happened!

The bottom line of this pencil and paper study was that taking too much "vitamin E" in the form of alpha-tocopherol, more than 400 IU, increases the risk of mortality from all causes. But nutritional scientists had already been saying for years that there's more to vitamin E than the alpha-tocopherol found in most vitamin E supplements. And the scientists had also been saying for years that focusing on a single nutritional supplement doesn't give the best results. Here's why.

Vitamin E contains not one but eight antioxidants, alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol. The most potent antioxidant, also the cheapest to manufacture, is the well-known alpha-tocopherol. Alpha-tocopherol recharges vitamin C, is easily stored in tissues, and is the most abundant form of vitamin E found in the body.

Alpha-tocopherol is a heavy-duty antioxidant. There are some tasks it doesn't perform. These are mostly carried about by its kinder, gentler cousin, gamma-tocopherol.

Gamma-tocopherol is the major form of vitamin E found in food. It's especially abundant in nuts and seeds. What gamma-tocopherol does that alpha-tocopherol doesn't is to keep cholesterol from oxidizing into "sticky" forms.

Alpha-tocopherol is needed to recharge other antioxidants. Our tissues store this form of vitamin E for this important purpose.

Too much alpha-tocopherol, however, displaces the gamma-tocopherol that keeps cholesterol from forming unhealthy compounds. It keeps gamma-tocopherol from capturing nitric dioxide and converting it into heart-healthy, artery-expanding nitric oxide. It keeps gamma-tocopherol from protecting the lipid linings of the cells of the brain.

Why is this? The simple fact is, vitamin E isn't just an antioxidant. Taking vitamin E just for its antioxidant properties can lead to vitamin E side effects.

Alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol all stop cholesterol from forming plaques. Alpha-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol do this by soaking up free radicals that activate white blood cells to invade the linings of the arteries eventually to calcify and harden. Beta-tocopherol does this too, but it doesn't stop free radicals. It isn't an antioxidant.

The everyday alpha-tocopherol and less well known gamma-tocopherol both play a role in keeping colon cells from becoming cancerous. Alpha-tocopherol soaks up free radicals. It is a colonic anti-oxidant. Gamma-tocopherol stops inflammation, keeping any unusual cells from circulating, holding them in place until they live out their life cycle.

Gamma-tocopherol, but not alpha-tocopherol, fights cancer in the lungs and stomach. A combination of alpha- and gamma-tocopherol seems to lower the risk of cataracts. And gamma-tocopherol, not alpha-tocopherol seems to make the difference between recovery and mortality in cardiovascular disease in men.

Unfortunately, the US Department of Agriculture decided about 5 years ago it would be easier just to treat vitamin E as an antioxidant. (Before 2000, the Department of Agriculture measured gamma-tocopherol in food, but made calculations as if it were 10% as important as alpha-tocopherol.) No need to deal with those pesky beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherols and the four tocotrienols. Assume vitamin E is just an antioxidant and assume seven of its forms away.

If you're taking a supplement that provides just alpha-tocopherol, it really is possible to get too much of a good thing. You can compensate for the added alpha-tocopherol potentially causing vitamin E side effects by adding a few nuts every day to your diet, and don't be discouraged from doing this by anyone who would tell you that nuts will cause you to gain weight. In quantities of up to 100 g (a little over 3 oz) a day, nuts contain lignins, monounsaturated fatty acids, and phytochemicals that will actually help you lose weight!

Other terrific sources of gamma-tocopherol and the six other "minor" constituents of vitamin E include corn oil, sesame oil, and pumpkin seeds. But if you aren't ready to go nuts, or deep-fried isn't your thing, or there are just so many pumpkin seeds you can eat every day, consider supplements that provide the greatest possible range of the eight constituents of vitamin E.

Don't assume your supplement gives you gamma-tocopherol unless it's clearly marked on the label. A claim that the supplement contains 100% of the US RDA only tells you that it contains at least 15 IU of the alpha-tocopherol form of the vitamin, not enough to hurt you, but not enough to help you, either.

To enjoy the full benefits of vitamin E with none of the vitamin E side effects you've heard about, consider Total Balance all of the 85 ingredients in Total Balance work in complete synergy without interfering with each other. You don't need high doses of any one form of vitamin E, just a highly concentrated, natural food supplement.

We take Total Balance ourselves and are very happy with the results. It is in covered it in detail in the "what we take tab" on the upper left hand portion of this page.

More vitamin information besides vitamin E side effects back at the home page.

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