Vitamin E Could Cut Your Risk Of A Heart Attack Or Stroke

| October 23, 2014

The benefits of vitamin E, the body’s main fat-soluble antioxidant, include better blood sugar control and protection of blood vessels and nerves from the damaging effects of diabetes. Studies have shown that high doses of vitamin E may even reverse damage to nerves caused by diabetes and prevent hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). A study in Israel, published in 2008, found that when middle-aged people with diabetes were given 400 IU of vitamin E a day, their risk of major cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart attack and death fell by a whopping 50 per cent.1

So why did another study published in the same year conclude that vitamin E did nothing to reduce cardiovascular risks; or an earlier review of 19 clinical trials find that supplementing with 400 IU or more of vitamin E a day might actually increase all-cause mortality? It simply comes down to the form of the vitamin used and, just possibly, who is paying the researchers.

Naturally-occurring vitamin E is not a single substance; it is a mixture of eight separate chemicals. It consists of plant compounds called tocopherols and tocotrienols, each of which exists as four slightly different molecules, named after the first four letters of the Greek alphabet – alpha, beta, gamma and delta.

Synthetic vitamin E, on the other hand, is a single chemical called dl-alpha-tocopherol. The ‘dl’ is important because it shows that this man-made chemical has a different structural (isomeric) form from that of natural alpha-tocopherol. Synthetic vitamin E is used in some vitamin E supplements because it is cheaper than natural vitamin E. But it is nothing like the real thing. It has about half the availability and activity in the body as the natural kind and is excreted faster in the urine. And it doesn’t have the same benefits for the heart or for health in general.

So let’s take another look at that review, published in 2005, which linked vitamin E supplements with an increased risk of death from all causes.2 These findings were widely reported at the time and a lot of people stopped taking vitamin E because of them. But most of the 19 studies selected for this review used the synthetic dl-alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E; and although a few used natural alpha-tocopherol, none of them included any of the other seven forms of vitamin E that occur together in foods.

The doctors carrying out these clinical trials have to be credited with being a fairly bright bunch, so it seems strange they hadn’t twigged that synthetic vitamin E doesn’t act in our bodies in the same way as the natural form containing all eight tocopherols and tocotrienols. And even stranger that those conducting the randomised, placebo-controlled trial published in 2008, which concluded that vitamin E does not reduce the risk of major cardiac events (heart attacks, strokes and cardiac-related death), again decided to use only synthetic vitamin E.3

Perhaps the most interesting information in this study is not to be found in the researchers’ conclusions but in the small print at the very bottom, where they are obliged to disclose their financial interests. Most of the study’s authors were being paid by a total of seven different drugs companies and Dr Michael Gaziano, who led the study, was a consultant for Bayer AG and Pfizer and acted as an expert witness for Merck. A sceptic might suggest that the synthetic form was intentionally chosen for this trial, to ensure a negative result and so discredit vitamin E.

Make sure you get the natural form of vitamin E

The fact is that the natural form of vitamin E is safe to use at the recommended dosages (generally around 400 IU a day) and has a multitude of benefits for your health. Just look for a product that has ‘mixed tocopherols’ or, even better, ‘mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols’ on the label. These kinds of vitamin E may be a bit more expensive, but they are as different from the synthetic version as chalk is from cheese.

To get the most vitamin E naturally from your diet, be sure to include plenty of the following foods (the fresher the better):

  • Almonds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Avocados
  • Peanuts (raw)

Vitamin E’s antioxidant properties protect many of the body’s organs from free radical damage, including preventing such damage to  the thyroid gland and so helping to maintain the output of thyroid hormones. The popular diabetes drug metformin, on the other hand, could raise your risk of low thyroid function by 55 per cent, according to a recent study. I shall tell you more about this in my next blog post.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.

References

1. Milman U, Blum S, Shapira C et al. Vitamin E supplementation reduces cardiovascular events in a subgroup of middle-aged individuals with both type 2 diabetes mellitus and the haptoglobin 2-2 genotype: a prospective double-blinded clinical trial. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2008; 28(2):341-347.
2. Miller ER, Pastor-Barriuso R, Dalal D, Riemersma RA, Appel LJ, Guallar E. Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality. Ann Intern Med. 2005;142(1):37-46.

3. Sesso HD, Buring JE, Christen WG et al. Vitamins E and C in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in men: the Physicians’ Health Study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2008; 300(18):2123-2133.

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Category: Diabetes and Heart Disease

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