The Warning of Vitamin E and Heart Disease

The warning of vitamin E and heart and other diseases in the media recently seems to stem from studies that used synthetic forms of vitamin E, not natural forms of the vitamin.

There is one study and one meta-study cited, and they fail to distinguish between the different forms of vitamin e supplements available. Not only are there natural and synthetic forms of this vitamin, but of the natural forms of vitamin e, there are 4 types of tocopherols and four types of tocotrienols, and these 8 different natural types all have different functions in the body.

The HOPE study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that ‘mega doses’ of vitamin E may increase the risk of heart failure. Dr Mercola points out that the difference in the increase in risk between the group taking the placebo and those taking 400IU of vitamin E per day is only 2.1%. And the principle researcher recommended that further studies needed to be done to see whether the connection between vitamin e and heart failure was valid.

If you don’t look too closely at the warning of vitamin e and heart failure in the media, the results could be disturbing. However, as Dr Mercola also points out:

“Please note that not one word is mentioned about vitamin E specifics. These investigators ignored two major and important facts about vitamin E supplementation. One is the difference between synthetic and natural vitamin E and then the type of tocopherol involved. Most likely these patients were given synthtetic dl-alpha tocopherol.” (See above weblink)

Dr Mercola recommends people stay away from supplementing with synthetic forms of vitamin e. And the results of the meta-study may in fact say more about the possible dangers of supplementing with synthetic forms of vitamin e than anything else.

Dr Mercola quotes Dr. Aileen Burford-Mason in this article on vitamin e risks:

“But a major problem with this approach is that a good meta-analysis of badly designed studies still results in bad statistics. Statisticians have a saying for this: ‘Garbage in equals garbage out.’ In the case of this study, the “garbage” involved failure to make sure that all the clinical trials analyzed in the same meta-analysis used the same form of vitamin E.”


“The only way we will know for sure if there are risks attached to taking vitamin E supplements is to evaluate the safety of natural and synthetic supplements separately. After all, if synthetic vitamin E has a detrimental effect, as has been suspected for some time, we need to know.”

Dr Mercola found other problems with the meta-study, as described in the link above. But it is clear that the warning of vitamin e and heart failure needs to be examined with a clear look at the complexity of factors involved. These studies used synthetic forms of a vitamin that do not reflect what we would eat in vitamin e rich foods. And they examined doses that were higher than the RDA. These statistical warnings may well be valid for high doses of synthetic vitamin e, but that does not mean other natural types of vitamin e should be tarred by the same brush. They are different chemical compounds. To draw conclusions about them from studies about other molecules is not good science.