A few years ago, a study linking vitamin E to health problems appeared in the headlines and that same study has since been mentioned in countess media presentations. Hearing something like this is very scary and I completely understand your concerns. There is however much more to this story and I want to explain this further today.
It is true that certain forms of Vitamin E given in very large doses did in fact get linked to these diseases, but the key words here is the wrong type of vitamin E and large doses.
You see in nature, fruits and vegetables contain vitamin E and therefore are very beneficial. The vitamin E in nature comes as a total E and has 4 components, alpha, beta, gamma and delta tocopherols which all work together to provide antioxidant protection and nourish the body. The problem arises when supplement manufacturers try to make the supplement in a laboratory and think they can outsmart nature. Alpha tocopherol is the cheapest to manufacture and therefore it is used alone in most supplements. When taking alpha without the other 3 tocopherols, vitamin E is not complete and the alpha tocopherol overpowers the other tocopherols creating their relative deficiency. The other 3 tocopherols, especially the Gamma are very cardio protective and have been studied to actually help prevent cancer. In the study that has given vitamin E its “bad” name, the researchers gave high doses of alpha tocopherol so the reason that they got negative results was due to its depletion of the Gamma and the other tocopherols which the body needs.
Taking this a step further, some of lower quality brands such as the ones sold in drug stores are not only using alpha tocopherol alone but they are also synthetically manufacturing it.
When reading the label, natural vitamin E is labeled as d-alpha tocopherol where as the synthetic is labeled as dl-alpha tocopherol. (Notice the difference lies in the “l” before the –alpha). The synthetic form is not well recognized by the body and has been shown to have long-term health problems.
I know this all sounds scary, but the good news is that the truly good and natural brands come with all 4 tocopherols and none of the above problems apply. Our Ultra Gamma Vitamin E as well as our Multi-Vitamins, Prenatals and Anti-oxidants consist of all the tocopherols so you can reap the benefits of this truly amazing antioxidant with absolutely no downside.
For that same reason and rationale I also recommend natural folates instead of just folic acid (for more information on synthetic folic acid please see Folic Acid Controversy article) and mixed carotenoids instead of just vitamin A to prevent those same problems. Whenever you mess with nature, there are usually side effects which is why we only use and recommend the most natural supplements to our patients.
Not every study is always done correctly and the media often takes things out of context like here – they just say vitamin E is bad but don’t actually explain the details – so hope this helps ease your mind. If you are already taking a natural mixed tocopherol vitamin E, great job! If you are not sure, please read the label and if you find that it is alpha alone or that it is synthetic, please consider switching to a better brand.