of investigation by medical and nutritional
researchers, that validate and support the use
of vitamin E as an antioxidant nutrient.
(Antioxidants are substances that prevent
the formation of and help to destroy health-threatening free radicals, also called oxidants.)
Separating news from
science about vitamin E
By Dr. Joyce Tellier Johnson
AS A NATUROPATHIC doctor, I’m often
asked by friends and acquaintances for my
comments on the latest “news” about health
and nutrition. Headlines earlier this year
suggested that one of the most popular health
standbys, vitamin E, may be dangerous.
There are a lot of scientific studies out
there, and even more media stories about
them. Can you tell which ones to take to heart?
Read the reports
For instance, recent reports from a Johns
Hopkins University study suggested that
vitamin E might increase heart-disease risk.
omitted the majority of existing published
studies, selecting only 19 of some 2,170 studies
available on vitamin E. Also, according to the
CRN, 18 of the 19 studies reviewed did not
support the researchers’ conclusions.
In another example, the HOPE-TOO
study was conducted on elderly
patients who were seriously
over the age of 55 years
with either vascular disease or diabetes upon
entry into the study.
These subjects already
The cost of free radicals
You have probably heard about free
radicals. They are destructive oxygen compounds that may be created in the body as
it uses oxygen, or they can enter the body
from the environment. Free radicals are like
marauders inside cells because of their
molecular structure. They are incomplete
molecules that have lost an electron, and
while a molecule with all of its electrons is
stable, a free radical is not.
Free radicals try to “steal” electrons, and in
the process they can interfere with the chemical processes of life and health. Ultimately, free
radicals contribute to cellular death and can
harm DNA, causing mutations that speed
aging and increase the risk of disease.
Although some cellular free-radical
damage is unavoidable, these molecules can
be “quenched” if you eat foods or take
supplements with antioxidants. Vitamin E is
an electron donor. It can donate an electron
to a free-radical molecule, thus quenching it
and helping to reduce the risk for disease and
E is for excellent
In scientific studies, vitamin E has been associated
with lowering the risk of
heart disease, stroke,
cancer and premature
• Oxidants (also called free radicals)
are unstable, destructive molecules
that can damage cells and DNA, causing
mutations that speed aging and increase
the risk of disease.
• Antioxidants are natural substances
that help prevent and destroy health-threatening free radicals.
• Vitamin E is an antioxidant. Your body
cannot produce vitamin E. It must be
obtained from your diet and supple-
mentation. Foods rich in vitamin E
include wheat germ, dark leafy
green vegetables, nuts, seeds,
legumes, whole grains, brown
rice, eggs, oatmeal and
This was actually not new research but a
“meta-analysis,” meaning a number of earlier
studies were reviewed.
On the other side, the Council for
Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a Washington,
D.C.–based trade association representing
ingredient suppliers and manufacturers in the
dietary-supplement industry (
org), claims there were significant flaws
and inaccuracies in this meta-analysis. For
example, according to the CRN, the authors
had cardiovascular disease or strong risk factors and were taking
medications. Therefore, this
study could not be expected to
accurately reflect the effect of
vitamin E against cardiovascular disease
in healthy individuals.
So, which study is right?
The fact is, there have been hundreds
of individual studies, documenting decades
aging. It may also provide
significant benefit to brain
and immune cells, and at
high doses may significantly
slow complications of diabetes.
Vitamin E is not recommended for
people using blood-thinning medications
or about to undergo surgery, as it can also
thin the blood. This is usually a health benefit, as it improves circulation, but not if
you are about to have surgery.