Can Vitamin E Cause Harm?
By Dr. Greg Fors, DC, DIBCN
Defeat Autism Now! Doctor
Vitamin E to most people is one molecule: alpha-tocopherol. However, vitamin E. is an eight-member family complex, much like the B-complex. The E complex is eight closely related vitamers: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Each E vitamer has its own unique properties not shared with the other E vitamers. Supplemental vitamin E alpha tocopherol with “mixed tocopherols” generally contains only alpha-tocopherol with a token quantity of the other vitamin E molecules. Recent studies now show that unbalanced alpha-tocopherol supplementation is actually harmful and may raise mortality rates .
Unbalanced alpha-tocopherol supplementation actually depletes the body and brain of the other members of the vitamin E family negating many of their benefits. For example, after just one month of supplementing with 400 IU of alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol levels in individuals were reduced by a whopping two-thirds. Furthermore, once unbalanced alpha-tocopherol supplementation is stopped it can take as much as two years for the ratio of alpha- and gamma-tocopherol to return to normal! By contrast, gamma-tocopherol supplementation can actually raise alpha-tocopherol levels.
Free Radicals, Inflammation, Chronic Disease and Vitamin E
Why is this so important for doctors to understand when prescribing antioxidant therapy? Alpha-tocopherol has been shown to act as a good antioxidant against some varieties of free radicals. But it is gamma-tocopherol that is the most effective in detoxifying the extremely damaging “reactive nitrogen species.” In fact, alpha-tocopherol alone is ineffective at removing the key reactive nitrogen species called peroxynitrite. Alpha-tocopherol with “mixed tocopherols” supplementation can actually result in an increase in oxidative stress that promotes a functional decrease in antioxidant capacity leading to a functional increase in inflammation, hence the possible increase in mortality rates.
Gamma-tocopherol is a more potent anti-inflammatory agent than alpha-tocopherol. In the inflammatory process COX-2 is a key enzyme which are targeted by “COX-2 inhibitor” drugs such as Celebrex® and Vioxx®. Gamma-tocopherol has been shown to be much more effective in reducing COX-2 synthesis of PGE2 and significantly inhibit lipoxygenase formation of LTB4, in contrast to alpha-tocopherol, which has no effect. Supplementation with gamma-tocopherol, but not alpha-tocopherol, significantly lowers C-reactive protein concentrations and can triple PPARγ mRNA levels, which act as anti-inflammatory mediators. Gamma-tocopherol is not only more effective in inhibiting inflammation-associated disease; supplementation with alpha-tocopherol alone significantly decreases gamma-tocopherol cellular levels and potentially increasing inflammation.
The E. for Heart Health
The HOPE, GISSI, CHAOS, Primary Prevention Project (PPP) studies have found that alpha-tocopherol does not give any protection against death from a heart attack or heart disease. The problem with these studies is that they may have been focused on the wrong vitamin E-alpha tocopherol. Several studies have found that low plasma levels of gamma-tocopherol – but not alpha tocopherol – are found in patients with atherosclerosis. Three such studies have specifically found an unbalanced ratio of alpha- to gamma-tocopherol in such patients, possibly from supplementation with regular vitamin E supplements!
Two large epidemiological studies have found that vitamin E from food, but not from supplements, was protective against death from heart disease. The reason for this is simple the vitamin E in the food we eat is primarily gamma-tocopherol, while “vitamin E” supplements doctors prescribed are overbalanced with alpha-tocopherol
In the regulation of blood pressure extracellular fluid pressure
plays a key role. Hypertension with its high extracellular fluid
pressure puts individuals at risk of congestive heart failure, cardiac
fibrosis, and liver cirrhosis. Gamma tocopherol may play a role in
reducing the incidence of hypertension because gamma-tocopherol and
gamma-tocotrienols, but not alpha-tocopherol, help control extracellular
fluid pressure through a key metabolite.
Alzheimer’s disease and the E Family
Recent research is now providing good evidence that it is the nitrogen-based free radicals, especially peroxynitrite, that is primarily behind the degenerative process in Alzheimer’s disease. As previously indicated it is gamma-, not alpha-tocopherol that can detoxify nitrogen-based free radicals and specifically peroxynitrite. When researchers examine the levels of gamma- and alpha-tocopherol in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients they find a specific depletion of gamma-tocopherol in areas of the brain affected by the disease when compared to controls. Alpha-tocopherol levels were the same in both brains, but gamma-tocopherol levels were found to be much lower throughout the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease compared to the brains of those without.
Prostate Cancer and the E Family
The ATBC trial found that low-dose alpha-tocopherol reduced the risk of prostate cancer; two studies suggest that high-dose alpha-tocopherol may actually increase prostate cancer risk. Another recent study found that males with the most gamma-tocopherol in their blood were five times less likely to develop prostate cancer than men with low blood gamma-tocopherol levels. This same study found that alpha-tocopherol and selenium levels were only found to be protective in males whose gamma-tocopherol levels were also high.
With this understanding what should you do, make sure you are taking a proper balance of the vitamin E. family. This is why you will now see is that BIOSPEC's all-important formula Mito-Detox contains 200 mg of gamma tocopherol with only 70 I.U. of alpha-
1. Ann Intern Med. 2005 Jan
Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase
all-cause mortality.Miller ER 3rd, Pastor-Barriuso R,
2. Baker H, Handelman GJ, Short S, Machlin LJ, Bhagavan HN, Dratz EA, Frank O. “Comparison of plasma alpha and gamma tocopherol levels following chronic oral administration of either all-rac-alpha-tocopheryl acetate or RRR-alpha-tocopheryl acetate in normal adult male subjects.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1986 Mar; 43(3): 382-7.
3. Handelman GJ, Machlin LJ, Fitch K, Weiter JJ, Dratz EA. Oral alpha-tocopherol supplements decrease plasma gamma-tocopherol levels in humans. J Nutr. 1985;115(6):807-813.
4. Jiang Q, Ames BN. Gamma-tocopherol, but not alpha-tocopherol, decreases proinflammatory eicosanoids and inflammation damage in rats. FASEB J. 2003 May;17(8):816-22.
4. Reiter E, Jiang Q, Christen S. Anti-inflammatory properties of a- and γ-tocopherol. Mol Aspects Med . 28 (2007) 668-691
5. Helzlsouer KJ, Huang HY, Alberg AJ, Hoffman S, Burke A, Norkus EP, Morris JS, Comstock GW. “Association between alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, selenium, and subsequent prostate cancer.” J Natl Cancer Inst. 2000 Dec 20; 92(24): 2018-23.
This entire site is for reference purposes only and is not intended to substitute for advice given by a licensed health-care professional. You should not use this information for self-diagnosis or for treating a health problem or disease. When you receive an item, carefully read all labels, warnings, and directions before use. Product packaging and materials may contain more and/or different information than that shown on this website. Contact your health-care professional immediately if you suspect that you have a medical problem or call 911. All information comments and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or ailment.