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Vitamin E: A Supplement Whose Time has Passed
Vitamin E is one of our most important anti-oxidant vitamins. It fights against free radicals, helping to protect our arteries from cholesterol buildup and our cells from cancer. Vitamin E also keeps our blood cells flexible and healthy, and plays a role in reducing inflammation.
Back in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, many doctors and scientists believed that high doses of supplemental vitamin E offered a safe and easy way to protect the heart. They based this assumption on the findings of studies that suggested that people whose diets included substantial amounts of vitamin E were less prone to heart attacks. Furthermore, since vitamin E is “natural,” how could it cause any harm?
Although only 22.4 International Units (IU) of vitamin E are necessary to maintain health, supplemental doses of 400-1200 IU were routinely recommended, even though no research had been done on the safety of effectiveness of these supplements.
Subsequent research has found that doses in this range may actually increase the risk for congestive heart failure in vulnerable individuals, and reduce the effectiveness of some cholesterol medications. Doses of 1000 IU may prolong bleeding times.
In October, the results of the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The trial was started with the optimistic idea that perhaps vitamin E and selenium could reduce prostate cancer. Over 35,000 men aged 50 or older were enrolled. They were assigned to vitamin E (400 IU daily), selenium (200 mcg daily), both supplements, or placebo.
The results were disappointing and sobering. After a follow-up period of seven years, those men who took the vitamin E supplements were 17 percent more likely to have developed prostate cancer. Selenium was basically a wash, with no substantial effect on cancer risk.
We can’t assume that a supplement is safe, simply because it is natural. Vitamin E in the diet is another story. There is good evidence that a diet high in vitamin E can help protect the heart and fight cancer. It is nearly impossible to get the dangerously high supplemental doses from the food we eat. The foods that provide vitamin E are good for us in so many ways. Great sources include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ oil
- Corn oil
- Sesame oil
- Soy bean oil
The take-home lesson? Get your nutrients form Mother Nature, and not from a pill. Your body knows the difference.
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