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
Moreover, other evidence suggests that vitamin E may provide additional
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
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.