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Definition of Vitamin E

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Vitamin E: Alpha-tocopherol, an antioxidant vitamin which binds oxygen free radicals that can cause tissue damage. Deficiency of vitamin E can lead to anemia. Vitamin E may play a possible role in preventing heart disease and cancer of the lung.

Vitamin E and the heart: In the Nurses' Health Study involving 80,000 women, subjects who took more vitamin E had a lower rate of heart attacks than those who consumed less vitamin E. However, in the ATBC (Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention) trial, men with known coronary artery disease given 50 mg of a synthetic vitamin E had no reduction in fatal heart attacks as compared with men given a placebo.

In the CHAOS (Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study) trial, patients with known coronary artery disease were given natural vitamin E or a placebo. The dose of vitamin E used (400-800IU) in this trial was 13 to 26 times greater than the RDA, and much higher than the ATBC cancer prevention trial. The vitamin E treated group experienced fewer heart attacks than the placebo group after one year of treatment.

Vitamin E and the prevention of lung cancer: Damage to DNA from free radicals can, it is thought, lead to the development of cancers. However, randomized, prospective, placebo-controlled trials involving antioxidant vitamins have generally yielded disappointing results. In the ATBC cancer prevention study, vitamin E was shown not to be beneficial in preventing lung cancers.

Vitamin E and the prevention of prostate cancer: In the ATBC cancer prevention trial, men given alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) had a lower incidence of prostate cancer than men given a placebo. The vitamin E-treated group also had significantly lower death rates from prostate cancer.

However, newer studies from a trial called SELECT showed that taking vitamin E can actually be harmful. According to an article in JAMA October 12, 2011, updated research finds that men who took vitamin E were at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer by about 17 percent.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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