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Can Supplementing with Vitamin E Kill You?

Dose of Reality

By now, you’ve probably heard about the big meta-study that put vitamin E into Big Pharma’s crosshairs. Headlines have been emblazoned with warnings that supplementing with vitamin E could kill you. Granted, it’s selling a lot of newspapers. But here at Nutrition & Healing, we’re not concerned. Nor is Dr. Wright changing any of his recommendations involving vitamin E. Here’s why

First, a “meta-study” sounds impressive — they estimated that it included over 135,000 participants. That makes it sound like any conclusions that come from such a big sample are carved in stone. Here’s the problem: A meta-study compiles data from other studies and tries to make conclusions and spot patterns. In this case, I believe they have failed miserably.

The data comes from combining a total of 19 studies, and here are just a few of the flaws they contain that cast serious doubt about the conclusion:

All of the studies included patients who already had one or more chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or kidney failure. All of these subjects were already at risk for early morbidity. Yet the study’s conclusion extrapolates this data to all healthy individuals without taking any of the many complicated factors into account.

Out of the 19 studies examined, only one of them showed data that was statistically significant for “high” doses of vitamin E as a possible cause. But half the people in that study were taking other vitamins and minerals in addition to vitamin E, so the conclusion that E was the culprit can’t be proven. Also, they examined “all-cause” death, which means that the participants, who were already at high-risk for
morbidity, could have died from any of a number of causes. No real link to vitamin E can be even remotely proven with so many other competing factors.

Oh, and how could I forget? The icing on the cake is that the meta-study was partially funded by the pharmaceutical industry, which, as you know, doesn’t make any profits when people take un-patentable supplements such as vitamin E, but stands to gain a great deal if they can convince people to take pharmaceuticals instead.

Taking all of these factors into account, this one report doesn’t even come close to outweighing the thousands of previous studies that have shown vitamin E to be a highly beneficial tool for disease prevention and overall health maintenance.

I hope this little dose of reality puts you at ease. It’s like our mothers always tried to tell us: You can’t believe everything you read.

The bark that’s better than its bite

Q: I realize that aging comes with its share of aches and pains, but the pain in my lower back is getting out of hand. I’m hesitant to go to my regular doctor about it, though. All they seem to do is prescribe pills that knock you out, or try to get you on the operating table. And I’ve never witnessed anyone who’s had back surgery come out feeling all that much better. Do you have any suggestions?

JVW: The fact that low back pain is a common complaint doesn’t make it any easier when it’s your turn. But there is a lot you can try to relieve your pain before submitting to narcotics or surgery.

First, you might want to try willow bark, the natural anti-inflammatory that actually served as the basis for aspirin. Many researchers have maintained that willow bark has even more to offer than our synthetic pharmaceuticals when it comes to relieving back pain.

Another possibility to explore is vitamin D deficiency. In fact, the Mayo Clinic did a study last year in an inner city clinic that discovered 93 percent of the 150 people with complaints of chronic, non-specific low back pain had vitamin D deficiency. And these weren’t just older folks they ranged in age from 10 to 65 years old.

While you could check these out on your own, it’s always a good idea to work with a doctor who is open to looking at nutritional and natural solutions for your pain.

What is…willow bark?

Willow bark is a natural remedy that has been used for centuries in numerous cultures, including Chinese and Native American. It is gathered from the bark of the white willow tree (Salix alba), although there are some other types of willow that appear to have varying degrees of the same medicinal effect. This effect is believed to come from salicin, which the body converts to salicylic acid.

In order to make money from the incredible pain-killing properties of willow bark, the pharmaceutical industry needed to make it synthetic and patentable — and the version they came up with is what we now know as aspirin. But many feel that the original willow bark outperforms aspirin with far fewer negative side effects.

Yours in good health,
Amanda Ross
Managing Editor
Nutrition & Healing


Miller ER, Pastor-Barriuso R, et al. “Meta-Analysis: High-Dosage Vitamin E Supplementation May Increase All-Cause Mortality.” Ann Intern Med 2004; 42(1)

Sears, Al, MD, “The Truth Behind The Vitamin E Death Scare,” Health Alert, 12/13/0