Vitamin E – still not a miracle cure

natural vitamin E in a natural dose

Vitamin E was crowned with a major health halo back in the early 1970’s.  There was little evidence for that then, and there’s even less now.  A recent analysis of several vitamin E studies had good news and bad news.  The Good News: vitamin E is probably safe, particularly at doses below 400 IU/day.  The Bad News: it doesn’t help you live longer.  So why take it?

Why did people think vitamin E was a miraculous cure-all?  Probably because it acts as an anti-oxidant, protecting the body from oxidative stress.  The simplistic conclusion went something like this:

  • oxidative stress could worsen diseases like dementia, cancer and heart disease
  • vitamin E is an anti-oxidant
  • therefore the more vitamin E you take, the more protection from oxidative stress diseases
  • you live longer

Apparently faulty logic.  In fact, too much vitamin E does have drawbacks.  Yet another meta-analysis shows that doses from 300-800 IU/day increase risk for hemorrhagic stroke, or bleeding in the brain.  Increased bleeding is a known side effect of taking E supplements, as the vitamin interferes with clotting.  People taking anti-coagulants must be very careful about excess vitamin E intake.  Supplements of vitamin E have also been statistically linked to increased risk for prostate cancer, birth defects and other adverse outcomes.  However, the mechanism for a causative effect is not known.

Despite the lack of evidence for benefit, and plenty of reasons to avoid taking too much, vitamin E supplements remain popular, thanks to the mystical health halo, and are available in large doses that were linked to adverse effects.  The recommended intake for adults is 30 I.U., far below the typical 200 or 400 I.U. supplements. The best food sources include oils and plant foods high in oil, such as nuts or seeds, as well as leafy greens.  Sadly, the more low fat diet foods people eat, the less vitamin E they get.  Heating oil to high temperatures, such as for deep frying, also can change the vitamin E in the oil.  One of the best ways to get vitamin E is by eating a salad with oil and vinegar dressing.  Snacking on nuts, or using nut butter on your toast also boost E intake.

Link to more information on vitamin E.

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