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Medical and Health value of Vitamin E

What you should know about vitamin E part 1

 By Dr. Gifford Jones

Is vitamin E the latest version of the old-fashioned snake oil? Are pharmaceutical companies interested only in making a handsome profit? Or is there bone-fide scientific evidence that vitamin E will enable us to live a longer, healthier life? What are the facts in 1989?

Vitamin E has been a controversial vitamin for years. It’s proponents claim it’s beneficial for heart disease, diabetes, thrombophlebitis, skin ulcers, frostbite, and that it improves athletic prowess. It protects the lungs they claim, from pollution, takes the itch out of old scars and eases menopausal symptoms. Yet its antagonists have always cast a jaundiced eye at these claims.

Why such a divergence of opinion? The controversy started 60 years ago when researchers raised a colony of rats. Their diet contained all essential elements except lettuce. The rats thrived and mated but all their offspring died. By adding lettuce or alfalfa to the menu, normal offspring were produced. The missing substance was vitamin E.

Researchers then gave a vitamin deficient diet to other animals. The rats studied developed liver degeneration and sperm producing cells in their testicles were destroyed. Calves died of heart disease and chickens contracted “crazy-chick” disease due to brain degeneration.

Scientists then gave rats increased amounts of vitamin E. They found the rats could run longer on a treadmill and survive longer in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. In humans excess vitamin E increased the lifespan of lung cells. Red blood cells also resisted air pollutants when provided with additional vitamin E.

The Shute brothers two medical doctors in London, Ontario took the next step. They gave patients with heart disease large doses of what they labelled “Big E”. Results were positive and they publicized their enthusiasm with angelic fervour. Evan Shute, writing in the Shute Foundation Summary, said,” We didn’t make vitamin E so versatile. God did. Ignore its mercy at your peril.”

These ecclesiastical pronouncements didn’t sit well with the medical establishment. They were labelled unscientific particularly when some doctors could not get the same results. And some medical authorities went so far as to label the Shute brothers charlatans and quacks.

Were the Shute brothers wrong? Ten years ago when I first researched this heated debate several points stood out. Some critics argued that vitamin E simply had a good psychological effect on patients. A placebo would produce the same result.

I agree that it’s easy on occasion to fool humans with sugar pills. But how can you trick vitamin E fed rats into surviving longer in a low oxygen atmosphere? Or convince rats who were deficient in vitamin E that they should die?

Another effect was hard to explain. Even the skeptics thought “Big E” was beneficial for a human condition called intermittent claudication. This problem results when atherosclerosis narrows the arteries in the legs. Arterial “rust” decreases the flow of oxygenated blood and causes leg cramps when patients are walking.

If vitamin E was helpful in treating intermittent claudication why wouldn’t it also be of use for those suffering from angina, a spasm of the coronary arteries. ? After all the heart is just a short distance away from the legs.

Several other significant facts have come to light. One prominent surgeon reported using “Big E” in patients who had suffered a major injury. He believed the anti-clotting properties of vitamin E prevented blood clots from forming in the legs.

My research revealed that vitamin E has been prescribed for U.S. astronauts to combat space anemia. It was included in the diet of the great racehorse, Northern Dancer. And Pope Pius XII and Pope John had both been prescribed this controversial vitamin.

What about doctors? Do they ever take this vitamin? Ten years ago many were not prescribing it to their patients. But I found it interesting that many confided that they did sneak into the closet to take vitamin E. Records of a major pharmaceutical company verified that fact.

How has vitamin E stood the test of time? Next week I’ll discuss how vitamin E may be helpful for several medical problems. How it works to slow the aging process. Why the Shute brothers were not the charlatans the medical establishment thought at the time.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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