Almost five years ago, Edgar R. Miller III PhD, an associate professor from Johns Hopkins University, dropped a bombshell on the nutritional world. He published an article warning us not to take large doses of vitamin E because it could increase our risk of dying.
Miller’s conclusions made a big splash in the mainstream news media. Everywhere you turned, you heard about the so-called dangers of vitamin E…I remember reading a particularly misinformed editorial in the New York Times entitled "Hazards of Vitamin E" after Miller’s study was published. No big surprise there. Most mainstream hacks love to beat up on their favorite punching bag: nutritional supplements.
To this day, we’re still digging out of the mess created by Dr. Miller’s study. Many people dropped vitamin E from their daily regimens. And that’s a shame because it is one of the best tools we have to protect against heart disease and cancer. In fact, one recent study showed that taking vitamin E may reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 28 percent. Low levels of vitamin E, on the other hand, are linked to bowel and breast cancer.
So how much can you safely take? I’ll answer that in a moment. But first let’s look at why Miller’s report is still a load of phooey five years later.
Comparing apples to oranges
Miller’s conclusions were based on data gleaned from 19 different clinical trials. He found that men and women who took 400 IUs or more of vitamin E over a seven-year period had a greater chance of dying as compared to non-vitamin E takers.
Most experts take this kind of research—called a meta-analysis—with a grain of salt. It’s very different from a placebo-controlled clinical trial. In a clinical trial, patients would have been selected based on uniform criterion (such as age, overall health, gender, etc.). They would have been randomly divided into groups and given identical amounts of vitamin E or a placebo for a standard amount of time.
But in Miller’s analysis, nothing was standardized. Each set of patients came from studies with different protocols (meaning they took different amounts of vitamin E for differing lengths of time). They even took different types of vitamin E. Some took natural vitamin E (far superior) and some took synthetic vitamin E. Lastly, many of the patients Miller used in his analysis suffered from different types of chronic ailments, such as Alzheimer’s disease and high blood pressure.
Miller lumped all these results together to form his conclusion. But this kind of practice is like comparing apples to oranges. It allows too many variables for the results to be written in stone.
But that’s not my only beef with Miller’s conclusions. There’s more…
Making a mountain out of a molehill
Miller and his colleagues concluded that men and women who took 400 IUs or more of vitamin E over seven years had a relative increased risk of dying of about 1.05. But 1.0 is considered neutral. In my book, a .05 increased risk is hardly a red flag. Even among statisticians, a .05 increase is negligible considering the variables in Miller’s analysis.
This study should have been ignored, not touted. There are plenty of legitimate studies (and I mean loads of clinical evidence) dating back to the 1950s showing that vitamin E benefits your overall health.
But if you’d read the media printed at the time, you’d have thought that taking vitamin E was a surefire admittance ticket to the pearly gates.
Safely taking vitamin E
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant found in oils, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. It prevents cell damage and blocks the formation of free radicals (known to promote cancer). But as we get older, most of us don’t get enough.
And that’s too bad. Because as we get older, vitamin E becomes even more important. In fact, according to a recent study by Yale scientists, men and women in their 70s and 80s with low levels of vitamin E in their blood experienced greater physical decline.
The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin E is about 20 International Units (IU) per day. But that dusting of a dosage isn’t going to get you anywhere. Vitamin E is safe in much higher doses. We’ve known that since the 1950s, when Wilfred and Evan Shute, (brothers and both MDs), used upwards of 8000 IUs of vitamin E on 30,000 patients with zero toxicity. Generally, I recommend looking for a gel cap that contains at least 400 IUs of vitamin E for someone in good health.
Now here’s where things can get tricky…
Getting to know the vitamin E family
Vitamin E is actually a family of eight different molecules. These molecules are divided into two groups: tocopherols and tocotrienols.
Look for a gel capsule that contains these three tocopherols: beta, delta, and gamma. This is known as a "mixed tocopherol" because it contains three fractions of vitamin E. It provides balanced antioxidant protection.
Alpha-tocopherol (sometimes listed as D-alpha or d-alpha-tocopherol) is the fourth fraction of tocopherol. It is the most common form of vitamin E supplements. But avoid taking this on its own as it upsets the balance of the other three factions, making them less effective. A word of caution: Dl-alpha (notice the difference in prefix) is a synthetic form of vitamin E and should be avoided for internal use. Look on the bottle to make sure it contains only 100 percent natural sources. If you can find a gel cap that adds in a healthy sprinkling of tocotrienols, that’s even better! Lastly, always combine your vitamin E supplement with 200 mcg (micrograms) of selenium for enhanced antioxidant protection.
A word of caution
When adding vitamin E to your regimen, start out with lower amounts and gradually increase your dosage over several weeks. Occasionally the nutrient can be so stimulating to the heart, you can experience a moderate and temporary increase in blood pressure. In addition, vitamin E is a natural anticoagulant. So if you’re currently taking blood thinner meds, I wouldn’t advise adding vitamin E to your regimen.
Dr. Allan Spreen
Latest posts by Dr. Allan Spreen (see all)
- Mom’s “prescription” for brain health fights Alzheimer’s - August 22, 2016
- Is your doc making this deadly drug mistake? - July 29, 2016
- This berry tag team could slash heart attack risk 32%! - June 28, 2016