VITAMIN E STUDY MISLEADS CONSUMERS
Cautious interpretation is essential
The meta-analysis to be published next January in the Annals of Internal Medicine (Volume 142, Issue 1) , suggests that mortality in people taking over 400 IU of Vitamin E a day is increased. The study re-analyses data from 19 clinical trials involving Vitamin E published between 1993 and 2004 and was undertaken by researchers at John Hopkins Medical Institutions.
In the view of the Alliance for Natural Health, which represents doctors, practitioners, consumers and leading-edge companies with interests in sustainable healthcare and natural therapies, it is of paramount importance that the study results are interpreted with caution.
Scaremongering headlines, based largely on misinterpretations of the study, which have begun to appear today, do nothing to help the development of responsible self-care patterns in consumers which are urgently required in the face of escalating heart disease and cancer rates.
Limitations of the study
In a widely circulated press release publicising the study, Dr Edgar Miller, lead author of the meta-analysis at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, claims that รขโฌล“If people are taking a multivitamin, they should make sure it contains no more than a low dose of vitamin E รขโฌยฆ our study shows that use of high-dose vitamin E supplements certainly did not prolong life, but was associated with a higher risk of death."
However, the study has a number of very important limitations which mean that sweeping generalisations such as those made by Dr Miller should not be made. Such statements could be regarded as irresponsible particularly as they are likely to cloud consumer views over the importance of food supplementation as a means of compensating for the now well demonstrated inadequacies of the typical, western diet.
Some of the most important limitations of the study are:
รยท All trials in the study were performed using only one of the seven forms of Vitamin E, namely รยก-tocopherol, which is often used in its synthetic form. There is now strong scientific evidence which demonstrates that other forms of Vitamin E, as found in natural food sources, are much more effective as antioxidants, these being for example รยฃ-tocopherol and the four tocotrienol forms. While รยก-tocopherol has long been the yardstick by which vitamin E activity is measured, รยฃ-tocopherol, the most abundant form found in foods, has in recent years been demonstrated to have unique roles in the prevention of both cardiovascular disease and cancer (Stone WL and Papas AM, J Nat Cancer Inst, 1997; 89 (14): 1006-14).
รยท The studies were undertaken in the main on elderly persons suffering chronic diseases, so it is not possible to conclude that higher supplemental doses of Vitamin E promote disease or increase death among healthy people. This limitation is acknowledged in the John Hopkins study, the authors indicating, รขโฌล“we could not evaluate the generalizability of our findings to healthy adult populations.รขโฌย
รยท The follow-up periods for the 19 studies were often short, averaging from 1.4 to 8.2 years. In many cases the chronic diseases suffered by study participants would not be able to be significantly impacted over shorter time periods.
A number of further limitations have been cited by the authors of the study.