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Alert Number 85

The Dangers of Vitamin E Supplements

Date: March 16, 2005

I know many of you take vitamin supplements, in the hope this will help you deal with your CLL, as well as improve the status of your general health. There is the further assumption that 'natural' vitamins are somehow safer and better for you. Among the more popular are vitamin E, alone or in combination with vitamin C and beta carotene (vitamin A). Any number of cancer 'gurus' are out there willing to sell you their particular potion of vitamins, and many more are ready to describe almost magical qualities of their particular fad diets. I get plenty of vegetables and fruits in my regular diet, I do not indulge in 'juicing' and, frankly, I prefer drinking my java the usual way, not being a fan of 'coffee enemas'. But even folks who stay away from the more egregious nonsense are still prone to popping a lot more vitamin pills than they should. Did you know that Dr. Linus Pauling, a lifelong supporter of mega doses of vitamin C for protection against cancer, died of cancer?

The latest issue of JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association, March 16, 2005) has a bombshell report on the use of vitamin E supplements from natural sources. To cut to the chase and put it bluntly, patients who took vitamin E supplements for about 7 years saw no benefit in their risk of cancer or cardiovascular events, and in fact some had an increased risk of heart failure.

Anecdotal data and small scale studies have suggested that vitamin E supplementation may prevent cancer and cardiovascular events. Putting that assumption to the test, this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was conducted over a ten year period, with more than a thousand participants, to evaluate whether long-term supplementation with vitamin E decreases the risk of cancer, cancer death, and major cardiovascular events.

Patients received a daily dose of natural source vitamin E (400 IU) or matching placebo. Folks, this study and the results from it are about as solid as it gets, a truly impressive effort. Also, for those of you who believe "natural" vitamins are somehow better, this study used natural source vitamin E.

The researchers found that the daily administration of 400 IU of natural source vitamin E for a median of 7 years had no clear impact on fatal and nonfatal cancers. On the other hand, they observed an increase in the risk of heart failure. These research findings strongly suggest that vitamin E supplements should not be used in patients with vascular disease or diabetes mellitus. The authors write: "Our study also has wider implications. There is a tendency to accept 'natural products' (e.g., vitamins) as being safe, even if they have not been proven to be effective. However, our findings emphasize the need to thoroughly evaluate all vitamins, other natural products, and complementary medicines in appropriately designed trials before they are widely used for presumed health benefits." (JAMA. 2005;293:1338-1347.)

In an editorial accompanying the JAMA article, B. Greg Brown, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Washington School of Medicine, and John Crowley, Ph.D., of the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Seattle, have this to say: "This report effectively closes the door on the prospect of a major protective effect of long-term exposure to Vitamin E, taken in moderately high dosage, against complications of atherosclerosis and overall cancer incidence. Second, in doing so, it reemphasizes the importance of controlled clinical trials for testing important hypotheses deriving from basic biological findings or from epidemiological observations. The latter can mislead; well-designed clinical trials rarely do."

"The hopes for vitamin E alone or in combination with vitamin C and A (beta carotene) have been diminished by a compelling body of clinical trial evidence, .. and there are concerns about adverse effects" (JAMA. 2005;293:1387-1390)

Here is my dietary advice, and it won't cost you a dime. Eat a well balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, with a balance of omega 3 and omega 6 PUFAs. Stay away from heavily processed junk foods, fad diets and miracle potions. Hang on to your wallet, be a hard sell. There are a lot of folks out there that would just love to take advantage of your insecurities.

Be well.


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