Supplement industry still needs to allay vitamin E worries

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Vitamin, Dietary supplement

Consumers remain concerned by the conclusions of the recent
meta-study on vitamin E and may be putting their lives at risk,
according to a study released last week.

A national poll commissioned by Dietary Supplement Information Bureau (DSIB) after the results of the John Hopkins meta-study was published suggests that 18 percent of Americans are now less likely to take vitamin E than before.

This group has, says the survey, been scared away from the supplement by the news that high doses of vitamin E "may increase risk of dying"​ among older, high-risk patients.

This attitude has led some health professionals to express their concerns that certain consumers may be putting themselves at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, from which vitamin E is thought to offer some protection.

"Vitamin E is an important antioxidant,"​ said Barbara Levine, associate professor of nutrition in medicine at Weill Medical College, Cornell University. "If consumers base their lifestyles on this inconclusive meta-analysis, we could see an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancers and age-related macular degeneration in an otherwise healthy population."

Her words were backed up by Elliott Balbert, president of the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance.

"This study, released at the American Heart Association annual meeting, produced and created an avalanche of misinformation that puts millions of Americans at a health risk,"​ he said "Numerous scientific studies have shown that Americans, especially seniors, should take vitamin E supplements to combat cardiovascular disease."

The DSIB​ and the Council for Responsible Nutrition​ (CRN) both reacted to the research by launching websites to help consumers obtain information on vitamin E.

"The CRN is taking these actions because vitamin E consumers have been confused and unnecessarily frightened by sensationalist headlines generated by scientists from a respected university who have presented the findings of one meta-analysis in an irresponsible manner. Vitamin E is both safe and good for you,"​ said Annette Dickinson president of the CRN, which has also launched a national vitamin E education campaign.

The organization has also drawing attention to the fact that many clinical trails are underway looking at the possible benefits of vitamin E, namely at Harvard University and and government agencies such as the National Cancer Institute. These studies are investigating the protective effect of vitamin E on heart disease and a number of cancers including prostate cancer.

"These studies are continuing, despite the meta-analysis, because the principal investigators remain confident in the safety of vitamin E,"​ added the CRN.

The study at the root of this controversy was published earlier this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine and reported at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions. It stated that daily vitamin E doses of 400 international units (IU) or more can increase the risk of death and should be avoided.

The researchers noted that "in animal and observational studies, vitamin E supplementation was shown to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, other studies suggested that high doses could be harmful"​.

In order to investigate these findings and determine if there is a 'dose-dependant response', researchers studied death rates in published clinical trials comparing vitamin E supplementation to placebo and included findings from 14 studies undertaken between 1993 and 2004. "Doses ranged from 15 to 2000 IU/day, and average intake was about 400 IU a day," said the researchers.

"Increasing doses of vitamin E were linked to an increase in death,"​ said lead author Edgar Miller, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

He qualified this statement by noting that there was no increased risk of death with a dose of 200 IU per day or less, "and there may even be some benefit"​. However, there was an increased risk at amounts above 200 IU per day and significant risk of death was found at 400 IU and above a day.

"Those who take greater than 400 IU of vitamin E a day are about 10 percent more likely to die than those who do not,"​ researchers said, adding that many people who take vitamin E supplements take between 400 and 800 IU in a single capsule.

Vitamin E is currently growing faster than traditional food ingredients at around 5-7 percent on a global basis. Natural vitamin E is growing slightly faster, based on its use in health products. However new research can cause spikes in demand for vitamins.

"Studies that are able to obtain this type of high media attention do have a significant impact on sales. For example, positive studies in the mid-90's had a significant positive effect on vitamin E sales,"​ Thomas Breisach, spokesman for DSM Nutritional Products, one of the largest manufacturers of the synthetic vitamin, told NutraIngredients.com.

"According to feedback from some customers, there is a short term drop in vitamin E business in the week since the story ran,"​ he added.

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