Why vitamin E can't be generalized

Why vitamin E can't be generalized

Here's some science-based pushback on recent research linking vitamin E to prostate cancer. 

We have recently seen news circulating on the Internet and mainstream media that reported how consuming “vitamin E" and selenium increases the risk of prostate cancer (based on a recent paper published on the Journal of the National Cancer Institute). The headlines of these news reports alone are enough to misleadingly cast doubt in consumers' mind and unjustifiably resulting in them dropping their daily supplement routine—just because “experts” say so.

Using the term “vitamin E” in the subject title gives an absolutely wrong impression to readers that all forms of vitamin E increase prostate cancer risk, which is not what SELECT study actually shows, by any stretch of the imagination.

SELECT again?
Those who have scrutinized the study would know that these results were derived from the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) which used synthetic vitamin E alpha-tocopherol and purified selenium.

In nature, there are eight natural forms of vitamin E: d-alpha-, d-beta-, d-gamma, d-delta-tocopherol,  and d-alpha-, d-beta-, d-gamma- and d-delta-tocotrienol.

Beneficial effects of other natural forms of vitamin E on prostate cancer cells
Numerous research studies have shown that gamma-tocotrienol, gamma-tocopherol or combination of these vitamin E forms, to be effective in inhibiting prostate cancer cell growth. 

By using one single type of vitamin E and in a synthetic form, to arrive at a conclusion that vitamin E increases the risk of prostate cancer is misleading and seriously undermining the potential of other vitamin E forms that genuinely offer protection against prostate cancer. 

Findings not applicable to other natural forms of vitamin E
Since tocotrienols and other tocopherol forms were not used in the SELECT study, it is Carotech's opinion that:

  • The result of elevated prostate cancer risk in this study may not be relevant to those who take natural d-alpha-tocopherol or natural vitamin E (d-mixed tocopherols) or tocotrienols (d-mixed tocotrienols). SELECT used synthetic vitamin E (all rac-α-tocopheryl acetate) where only one out of the eight vitamin E forms is biologically active/bioavailable. Hence, significantly less active biologically. Citing from the Linus Pauling Institute, Bryan See (Regional Product Manager, Carotech Inc.) said that “Alpha-tocopherol present in nature in only one form, RRR-alpha-tocopherol or d-alpha-tocopherol. The chemical synthesis of alpha-tocopherol or dl-alpha-tocopherol results in eight different forms, only one of which is RRR-alpha-tocopherol or d-alpha-tocopherol. As such - if we were to take the chemically synthesized form of alpha-tocopherol, only 12.5% is of the natural and the remaining 87.5% is synthetic. This is significant in term of what the study participants absorbed and whether the results as seen in the study is actually attributed to natural d-alpha-tocopherol! In addition, the study did not look into other natural forms of vitamin E such as gamma-tocopherol and tocotrienols.”
  • Newspaper or magazine headlines erroneously used the term “vitamin E” in the title such as “Vitamin E Increases Prostate Cancer Risk.” Using the term vitamin E without qualifying the exact form of vitamin E used, is a disservice to the dietary supplement market. The title should have made a distinction of the form of vitamin E used in SELECT. It would have been a more appropriate and accurate representation of the SELECT study if the title had been – “Synthetic Vitamin E (dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate) Increases Prostate Cancer Risk.”  Or for this particular JNCI paper: “Baseline selenium status and effects of L-Selenomethionine and Synthetic Vitamin E supplementation on prostate cancer risk”.

Take-home messages

  • Synthetic vitamin E is less biologically active. It is different from natural mixed tocopherols or natural mixed tocotrienols
  • Do not take high dose of synthetic vitamin E
  • Taking the full spectrum natural vitamin E (d-mixed tocopherols + d-mixed tocotrienols) or E Complete, will likely be protective
  • In addition, high concentration of full spectrum vitamin E in older adults is protective against risk of cognitive impairment, as reported by several European studies (led by researchers from the University of Perugia, Karolinska Institutet, and others)
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