The Truth About Vitamin E
It doesn't stave off heart disease, so who should take it?
A New Starring Role for E?
Is it time to give up on vitamin E? Not quite yet, other findings suggest. Despite the disappointing news, some heart specialists think it's still worth taking -- especially by people who already have cardiovascular disease. Douglas Morris, M.D., Director of the Heart Center at Emory University in Atlanta, admits that he would still take vitamin E -- along with vitamin C, another potent antioxidant -- if he were diagnosed with heart disease. After all, vitamin E at doses of 800 IUs or less a day has no known side effects. And some cardiologists are still recommending the vitamin to patients with heart disease.
Moreover, other evidence suggests that vitamin E may provide additional important payoffs.
Research has found that E helps keep the immune system strong as we age. For instance, when researchers at Tufts University in Boston tested vitamin E capsules against placebos in healthy volunteers 65 or older, they found that those who took 200 IUs per day showed a 65% increase in the activity of their immune cells in response to foreign substances. The vitamin E group also experienced a six-fold increase in antibodies to hepatitis-B vaccination -- evidence that their immune systems were much stronger in creating defenses against the disease.
Higher doses of vitamin E may also delay or even prevent Alzheimer's disease. Patients with the illness who took the supplement were much less likely to be hospitalized than those who didn't, according to a 1997 study by physician Michael Grundman of the University of California at San Diego. "Vitamin E seemed to delay the onset of the worst symptoms of Alzheimer's," says Grundman, who is associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study. "Because of its antioxidant property, it may work by blocking oxidative damage in the brain." Grundman and his colleagues are currently enrolling patients in a study to test whether vitamin E can help older people with symptoms of memory loss that could be early signs of Alzheimer's.
As for Alice Nadler, the flip-flop on vitamin E and heart disease has left her a little more skeptical of health claims in general. Still, she says, the fact that there may be other benefits to vitamin E is reason enough not to toss out her bottle of capsules. "I figure I'll keep on taking one a day, just to be on the safe side."
Peter Jaret is a freelance writer living in Petaluma, Calif. His work has appeared in Health, Hippocrates, Women?s Sports and Fitness, and numerous other publications. He is a contributing editor for WebMD.