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Update on Vitamin E

Paying to live a shorter life.

August 31, 2010 |
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Acknowledgements

Image thanks to Eden Politte.

Transcript

What about vitamin E? The concern has been that vitamin E supplements increase all-cause mortality, meaning those taking vitamin E live, on average, a shorter life. And now, we know how much shorter. A QALY, a “quality adjusted life year,” is defined as a year of healthy, illness-free life. If you take vitamin E supplements you live, on average, point three QALYs less than if you did not take vitamin E supplements. So by buying vitamin E you are in effect paying to erase like four healthy, illness free months from your lifespan. Still, harmful.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on Vitamin E. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Multivitamins and Mortality, Eating To Extend Our Lifespan, and Soymilk: shake it up!

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/lindsey/ Lindsey

    What is the dose of Vitamin E that becomes harmful? Or are all doses harmful?

    Isn’t Vitamin E included in a lot of multivitamin supplements? Should we avoid those that have Vitamin E in them?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Great question Lindsey! All we know based on this series of studies is that typical doses appear harmful. How these studies are typically run is by asking people if they take the vitamin in question (no dose specified) and then after controlling for a number of factors see if the people that claimed they did do better or worse than those reporting that they don’t. In terms of multivitamins, next week I’m going to be posting a new video on how taking multivitamins may increase breast cancer risk. Until then check out my other multivitamin videos.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rusti.hauge Rusti T Hauge

        Is it possible that a portion of people taking vitamin E were doing so for medical reasons?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/lindsey/ Lindsey

    Thank you, Dr. Greger!
    This site is a gold mine!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/EricNeeds/ Eric Needs

    And NOW the news is going crazy, we found it first here!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/kmatthews1262/ kmatthews1262

    Which vitamin E are you referring to that’s harmful–the natural or synthetic?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/kmatthews1262/ kmatthews1262

    Aren’t there different types of vitamin E?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Hello Kmatthews, similarly to synthetic vitamin c (ascorbic acid), and natural vitamin c from plants, your body will treat it and react the same way. The same can’t be said for synthetic vitamin a and the carotenoids found in plants as one can’t really overdose on the plant form of vitamin a if taken through its natural plant form. The second you isolate a mineral or vitamin you can expect an imbalance (unless one is truly deficient or requires supplementation for health reasons such as b12, vitamin d and in some cases, iodine.)
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/vitamin-supplements-worth-taking/

      In conclusion, we should not be supplementing vitamin E, whether it be synthetic or extracted from its natural form.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/rick1/ Rick1

    This study was based on useless synthetic vitamin E, not on the natural Mixed Tocopherols form!

    I much appreciate your work Dr Greger, but you need to mention important details like this in your video’s.

    Plus lets be honest, how can any study tell us if Vitamin E supplements shorten or lengthen our lifespan? There are just way to many individual diet variables in a control group to come up with any form of accuracy on any vitamin study regarding human longevity. Lets all keep our common sense hat on we we look at these supplement studies regarding longevity, and that’s no matter which way the study turns out.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

    Hi Rick, You are correct that the studies to date don’t “prove” that Vit E shortens lifespan. Reading the abstract connected with the video they were concerned with “high” dose Vit E and left open the possibility that low dose vitamin E might be okay. However the studies have shown that vitamin E does correlate with shorter lifespan. So there is evidence to not take Vitamin Supplements of A, E, and D. See Dr. Gregers other video http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/antioxidant-vitamin-supplements/. This makes some sense to me since A, D and E are the fat soluble vitamins and can accumulate in our bodies as opposed to the B vitamins which are water soluble and don’t accumulate. It is interesting to me that my patients want science to stop taking supplements but don’t base their decision to take supplements on scientific studies. At this point my recommendations are to get your vitamins, minerals and trace elements by consuming a varied whole plant diet. The only vitamin I routinely recommend for folks following a plant based diet is Vitamin B12. It is clear that we need more studies in the area of human nutrition and supplements.

    • e

      but the soil our food is grown on has lost much of its viability–so our plants don’t have the full nutrients we need.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Multivitamins and Mortality!

  • JG

    ugh….why do i always see these things right after i buy a product!!! i was just thrilled to find vitashine plant based vitamin d3 (my bloodtest for D came in at 8 so I need to supplement but am vegan).  well $40 later, sure enough, there is vitamin E in this spray bottle as well.  Dr. Greger, would you recommend not taking it due to the E? If so, do you have any other recommendations for plant based D3?  I’m hesitant to use D2 b/c of all the aggravating controversy. Thnx in advance and thnx for this whole site!

    • Toxins

      There are some misconceptions about Vitamin D2

      There are two types of vitamin D:

      Vitamin D3
      – cholecalciferol; is derived from animals (usually from sheep’s wool
      or fish oil). It is the preferred form that is usually recommended as studies have shown it to be more effective, and it is the form animals (including humans) synthesize from sunlight.

      Vitamin D2
      – ergocalciferol; a plant chemical that is the form synthesized by
      plants. It has vitamin D activity in humans, but not as much activity as
      D3;

      While D3 has been shown to be more effective (some studies have estimated it to be about 3- 10x more effective) it doesn’t mean that D2 is ineffective.

      If you are avoiding animal products, and are unable to get enough Vit D from exposure to sunlight, a Vit D2 supplement may be a solution, but you may have to take more of it, or take it more often.

      The reason is that in a study done in 2004, subjects were given one dose of 50,000 IU of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 was absorbed just as well as vitamin D3. However, after three days, blood levels of 25(OH)D decreased rapidly in the subjects who were given vitamin D2 and by 14 days they had fallen to the original level. Those who received vitamin D3 sustained high levels for two weeks before dropping gradually. This seems to indicates that vitamin D2 needs to be taken at least every three days to maintain adequate blood levels.

      Quoting from the study..

      The
      relative potencies of vitamins D(2) and D(3) were evaluated by
      administering single doses of 50,000 IU of the respective calciferols to
      20 healthy male volunteers, following the time course of serum vitamin D
      and 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) over a period of 28 d and measuring the
      area under the curve of the rise in 25OHD above baseline.The two calciferols produced similar rises in serum concentration of the administered vitamin,indicating equivalent absorption. Both produced similar initial rises in serum 25OHD over the first 3 d, but
      25OHD continued to rise in the D(3)-treated subjects, peaking at 14 d,
      whereas serum 25OHD fell rapidly in the D(2)-treated subjects and was
      not different from baseline at 14 d.
      http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/89/11/5387.long

      In addition..

      OBJECTIVE:
      Assessment of the effectiveness and safety of high daily 125 microg
      (5,000 IU) or 250 microg (10,000IU) doses of vitamin D(2) during 3
      months, in rapidly obtaining adequate 25 hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD)
      levels.

      DESIGN: Longitudinal study.

      SUBJECTS:
      Postmenopausal osteopenic/osteoporotic women (n = 38 ) were studied
      during winter and spring. Median age (25-75th percentile) was 61.5
      (57.00-66.25) years, and mean bone mineral density (BMD) was 0.902
      (0.800-1.042)g/cm(2). Subjects were randomly divided into three groups:
      control group (n=13): no vitamin D(2), 125 mug/day (n=13) and 250
      microg/day (n=12) of vitamin D(2) groups, all receiving 500 mg
      calcium/day. Serum calcium, phosphate, bone alkaline phosphatase (BAP),
      C-telopeptide (CTX), 25OHD, mid-molecule parathyroid hormone (mmPTH),
      daily urinary calcium and creatinine excretion were determined at
      baseline and monthly.

      RESULTS: For all subjects (n=38 ), the
      median baseline 25 hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) level was 36.25 (27.5-48.12)
      nmol/l. After 3 months, 8% of the patients in the control group, 50% in
      the 125 microg/day group and 75% in the 250 microg/day group had 25OHD
      values above 85 nmol/l (34 ng/ml). Considering both vitamin D(2) groups
      together, mmPTH and BAP levels diminished significantly after 3 months
      (P<0.02), unlike those of CTX. Serum calcium remained within normal
      range during the follow-up.

      CONCLUSIONS: The oral dose of vitamin
      D(2) required to rapidly achieve adequate levels of 25OHD is seemingly
      much higher than the usual recommended vitamin D(3) dose (20 mug/day).
      During 3 months, 250 microg/day of vitamin D(2) most effectively raised
      25OHD levels to 85 nmol/l in 75% of the postmenopausal
      osteopenic/osteoporotic women treated.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16391587

      Also..

      Concluded: Vitamin D deficiency was less prevalent
      in elderly women taking Vitamin D(2) supplements (1.8%) compared to
      women not taking any supplements (12%).
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15225846

      And..

      Concluded: In elderly subjects, both vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3
      supplements may contribute equally to circulating 25OHD levels, with
      the role of vitamin D supplement use being more predominant during
      winter.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14648011

      • JG

        I appreciate that information. Being that D3 does seem to be more effective, then if there is a vegan choice available, I would rather take that.  This is why I’m wondering about the safety of the Vit E included in this product.  A rep said that each spray contains < .1%.  So Im still unsure if this will do more harm than good.