The Importance of Vitamin E: Part One
Why Vitamin E is an Essential Supplement
Vitamin E supplements have been around since the beginning of the nutrition industry, but even today I speak with many people who never think of adding it to their vitamin regimen, assuming that their multivitamin provides enough. However, there is very little in a multivitamin (except for our NutriPods, which contain a full dose of 400 IU), and there are a number of good reasons for most of us to take extra vitamin E. As you shall see.
What is Vitamin E?
Naturally occurring vitamin E consists of eight elements: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols, but of these components alpha tocopherol is the form found most in nature and “has the highest biological value”. This belief by the scientific community is so entrenched that only alpha tocopherol can legally be referred to as “vitamin E” (at least in Canada). However, as we will see, some of the other constituents have recently been proven to be of value too.
Vitamin E is the main fat-based antioxidant in the body and it works in cell membranes where it prevents the formation of free radical reactions. Much of the science on vitamin E for preventing and reversing various diseases determined it worked by way of its function as an antioxidant. And this is logical, given that so many diseases are related to free radical damage (cancer, heart disease, etc), however not all of its value can be assigned only to its antioxidant activities. Much of the benefit of vitamin E also can be attributed to “its role in anti-inflammatory processes, its inhibition of platelet aggregation and its immune-enhancing activity”. (Source)
Vitamin E was first “discovered” in 1922 when rat studies proved it to be an essential nutrient for fertility and reproduction. (“Tocopherol from Greek words meaning birth and to bear or carry.”) As time and research went on it was found to also be important for the health of blood, brain, skin, and vision.
Further indications of the attributes of vitamin E can be extrapolated from looking at the medical signs of deficiency. These include: ataxia (loss of control of body movements); decreased immune function; peripheral neuropathy (damage to nerves, usually in the hands or feet); and retinopathy (damage to the retina of the eyes).
These severe symptoms are most commonly observed in those with major digestive disorders (e.g. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), or among those who do not absorb fat properly (e.g. those with celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, pancreatitis). (Source) Therefore, those with such conditions should be the first in line to be supplementing with vitamin E.
The Shute Institute
Now, as you will have observed, these days there is very little media attention on the benefits of any nutritional supplements, let alone vitamin E. But, according to Andrew W. Saul (a pioneer in the field of Orthomolecular Nutrition), “the battle over vitamin E has been going full-tilt for over 60 years”.
In 1948, brothers, and doctors, Evan and Wilfred Shute founded the Shute Medical Clinic (also known as the Shute Institute) in London, Ontario, where they set about treating patients with Vitamin E Therapy. The brothers, and many of their clients, would claim they cured thousands of patients suffering from heart disease with vitamin E. But during this time, in the 1950s, the medical profession was having none of it.
Not only were they criticised incessantly in the medical press, but those in the medical community were not even willing to try their approach nor to properly research the subject. In fact, the American Medical Association refused to let the Shute brothers present their findings at medical conventions, and in the early 1960s even convinced the U.S. postal service to prevent the mailing of vitamin E.
Given they could not publish their research in medical journals, in 1949 the Shute Institute began publishing their own journal, “The Summary”. Over the next decade they published articles on their research and treatment protocols for patients. Some of their discoveries were as follows:
- Vitamin E prevents fibroids and endometriosis, and cures atherosclerosis.
- Vitamin E is shown to cure hemorrhages in skin and mucous membranes, and to decrease the need for insulin in diabetics.
- Vitamin E improves wound healing, including skin ulcers. Also demonstrated effectiveness in cases of claudication, acute nephritis, thrombosis, cirrhosis and phlebitis, and strengthens and regulates heartbeat.
- Vitamin E successfully treats gangrene, inflammation of blood vessels (Buerger’s disease), retinitis and choroiditis.
- Vitamin E helps with symptoms of lupus erythematosus and shortness of breath.
- Vitamin E is shown to be an effective treatment for varicose veins, and in cases of severe body burns.
In 1956, Dr. Evan Shute published “The Heart and Vitamin E”, and in the forward to the reprint in 1985, Dr. Linus Pauling (one of the founders of Orthomolecular Nutrition) had this to say: “The failure of the medical establishment during the last forty years to recognize the value of Vitamin E in controlling heart disease is responsible for a tremendous amount of unnecessary suffering and for many early deaths. The interesting story of the efforts to suppress the Shute discoveries about Vitamin E illustrates the shocking bias of organized medicine against nutritional measures for achieving improved health.” (Source)
Now, let’s jump forward in time and look at some modern research on vitamin E.
First up, we have to address the most common criticism of vitamin E, one that is still frequently showing up in news and medical articles (and in google searches) whenever vitamin E is discussed.
In 2011, a study (“The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial”: Study) was splashed all over the media worldwide, telling us that vitamin E increases the risk of prostate cancer. I addressed that idea in this newsletter Refuting the Prostate Cancer and Vitamin E Study, in which I pointed out that the study used synthetic vitamin E (dl-alpha tocopherol) rather than the natural form (d-alpha tocopherol).
In this response I also referred to another long term study, released in 2008, which concluded: “In this prospective cohort, long-term supplemental intake of vitamin E and selenium were not associated with prostate cancer risk overall; however, risk of clinically relevant advanced disease was reduced with greater long-term vitamin E supplementation.” Not only did this study show the safety of taking vitamin E and selenium, but it also found that in the long run (ten years), “the risk for advanced prostate cancer decreased significantly with greater intake of supplemental vitamin E”. (Source)
In 2011 another study came out which saw little media attention until recently. This research, published in the International Journal of Cancer, found that gamma-tocotrienol, a component of natural vitamin E, actually kills prostate cancer stem cells. (Source) It is these cancer stem cells that prostate cancer develops from, and they are known to easily become resistant to chemotherapy. So imagine the surprise when experimental mice given gamma-tocotrienol evidenced a 75% decrease in tumor formation, and it also proved effective against existing tumors on the prostate. (Source)
But, it is not just this specific subcomponent of vitamin E that is of benefit when looking at prostate cancer: “There is convincing evidence that vitamin E succinate significantly reduces human prostate cancer growth in experimental models compared with alpha-tocopherol or tocopheryl acetate. Its intact delivery to cancer cells is questionable when administered orally; however, a study in transgenic mice showed a synergistic inhibitory effect of dietary vitamin E succinate, selenium, and lycopene on prostate cancer incidence.” (Source) (NutriStart uses vitamin E succinate in all our NutriPods products.)
Now a quick review of some modern research on vitamin E and its many benefits.
A 10-year-plus Harvard study of over a million people discovered that vitamin E supplements help prevent amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): “In this large, pooled prospective study, long-term vitamin E supplement use was associated with lower ALS rates.” (Source)
Vitamin E at a dose of 2,000 IU per day has been shown to delay Alzheimer’s disease (AD) progression, and to prolong the life of those with the disease. (Source)
In 24 epileptics taking antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), “addition of D-alpha-tocopheryl acetate (Vitamin E 400 IU/day) to existing AEDs was accompanied by a significant reduction of seizures in 10 of 12 cases”. (Source)
In 1995, JAMA published research that confirmed vitamin E to be an effective treatment for atherosclerosis: “Subjects with supplementary vitamin E intake of 100 IU per day or greater demonstrated less coronary artery lesion progression than did subjects with supplementary vitamin E intake less than 100 IU per day.” (Source)
A year later the Lancet released a study indicating that 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E daily could reduce risk of heart attack by 77%: “We conclude that in patients with angiographically proven symptomatic coronary atherosclerosis, alpha-tocopherol treatment substantially reduces the rate of non-fatal myocardial infarction (MI), with beneficial effects apparent after 1 year of treatment.” (Source)
All the above data contains links to proper scientific studies, mostly published in medical journals, but the material on heart disease is of particular note as it confirms the work that the Shute brothers did decades earlier. Yet, how often do you hear a doctor recommend that one take vitamin E to protect us from heart disease, our number one killer? Not often. But they are only too happy to put us on statins at the drop of a hat, no matter how dangerous these cholesterol medications are.
In Part Two we will continue to examine other well-researched benefits of vitamin E and get an idea of what dosage is ideal.