- Not All Forms of Vitamin E Should Be Vilified - Not All Forms of Vitamin E Should Be Vilified:
In the long-running debate over vitamin E, skeptics won a round earlier this month with the release of a study showing that high-dose supplements don't decrease the risk of early death and may even slightly increase it.

But as some scientists point out, there are different forms of vitamin E, and this study didn't distinguish among them -- a fact that they say may have skewed the results. Research suggests that certain types of vitamin E supplements may be more beneficial than others, and you need to read the fine print to know what you're really getting.

Most vitamin E supplements are synthetic, derived from petroleum. Natural supplements, which are more expensive, come mainly from soybean oil. Research shows that natural vitamin E is more potent and better absorbed than synthetic forms.

Labels aren't always helpful in distinguishing between the two, though. An analysis by the independent testing group found one "natural" brand to contain some synthetic vitamin E. And you'll almost never find the word "synthetic" on any label. You therefore have to decipher the ingredients: "dl-alpha-tocopherol" means it's synthetic; a "d" instead of "dl" indicates it's natural.

The "alpha-tocopherol" part refers to one of more than eight forms of vitamin E found in plants. Most supplements, whether synthetic or natural, contain only the alpha-tocopherol form because it's the most prevalent in our blood and the most studied.

However, some natural supplements also contain gamma-tocopherol, the form of vitamin E found in our diets. These are often labeled as "mixed tocopherols." Test-tube studies suggest that gamma-tocopherol may have certain disease-fighting properties that alpha doesn't. And some human research has associated higher blood levels of gamma-tocopherol with a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers, especially prostate.

Research also shows that taking high-dose alpha-tocopherol supplements suppresses levels of gamma-tocopherol in the blood. In contrast, taking gamma-tocopherol raises blood levels of both. Some researchers believe that this helps explain why studies focusing on vitamin E from sources that include diet (which presumably means more gamma) have tended to show benefits, while those involving only alpha-tocopherol supplements have often found none.

Because the jury is still out on the effects of supplements containing gamma, experts say your best bet is to get vitamin E through foods such as nuts, vegetable oils, whole grains, and leafy greens. It may also make sense to take a multivitamin that includes 100% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E. If you want more, stick with a natural supplement and don't exceed 400 IUs a day without talking to your doctor.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on November 23, 2004 8:21 AM.

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