Vitamin E, Heart failure, oxygen capacity
To E Or Nor To EBy Dr. Gifford Jones
Should I believe the study that links vitamin E to a possible premature death? I couldn’t resolve this question and finally gave up. Possibly I needed a holiday from deadlines as during a cruise along the west coast of Mexico on Holland America’s Ryndam, the sea air cleared my mind. It occurred to me that researchers had forgotten vital historical facts.
The study causing all the hubbub was a Johns Hopkins report that analyzed 19 clinical trials. It concluded that 400 or more international units (IU) of vitamin E per day increased the risk of dying from all causes by about four percent. In addition, a Canadian study showed that more people taking vitamin E developed heart failure. So it appeared that taking more of a good thing might not always be prudent.
So vitamin E took a wallop in the press. One newspaper headline was blunt, “High doses of vitamin E can kill you.” No wonder that many of my patients stopped taking E. For years I and other doctors had told them that E had major cardiovascular and other benefits. Now, I wondered how we could be so wrong.
But cruising in The Sea Of Cortez revitalized my brain. The Hopkins study involved many older people with existing chronic disease. How E affects them may differ from the way it affects healthy persons. But more important, while visiting interesting historical sites in Mexico, I realized that I, along with researchers, had forgotten important historical facts about vitamin E. Ones that cannot be ignored.
Vitamin E was discovered over 80 years ago. Since that time researchers have conducted many experiments that have collected dust. For instance, when rats were given increased amounts of vitamin E they could run longer on a treadmill and also survive longer in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere.
Studies show that rats run longer because E increases the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood, thereby delivering more oxygenated blood to tissues. It’s this fact that also helps humans who suffer from intermittent claudication, or pain in the legs.
A 70 year old patient of mine could only walk a few feet due to leg cramps. He had developed narrowing of the arteries caused by atherosclerosis and his muscles lacked sufficient oxygen. But after a few months of taking vitamin E he was back playing tennis.
Years ago it was reported that large doses of E prevented cataracts in diabetic mice. Later at a meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences researchers showed that patients who had taken increased amounts of E had similar results. The Harvard Nurses Health Study also showed that 400 IU of vitamin E decreased the risk of cataracts by 56 percent.
1n 1994 a Finnish study showed that smokers who took just 50 IU of vitamin E for five to eight years had a lower rate of prostate cancer.
Then in 2001 the U.S National Eye Institute had good news for those suffering from macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness. It reported that vitamin E (400 IU) along with beta carotene (25,000 IU), vitamin C (500 milligrams), zinc (80mg) and copper (2mg) slowed the rate of this debilitating disease.
Vitamin E is also a powerful antioxidant. Every minute of the day our cells are burning oxygen to provide energy for our body. During this process free radicals are produced, like the ash that’s left over after a fire and E helps to remove this ash. It’s believed that free radicals are linked to many aging problems such as cataracts and cancer.
I doubt that researchers could convince my tennis patient to discontinue E. Nor do I intend to stop taking natural E since I believe that history still shows the benefits of this vitamin. Maybe it would help if researchers also took a cruise to Mexico as sea air and historical sites have a way of clearing cobwebs from the mind.
Catchy headlines grab readers. But I deplore sensational ones that portray only one side of the story.
Remember, in such controversial matters every patient should seek the opinion of his/her doctor.(0) Reader Feedback | Email Article | Email Us | Print friendly
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