What is in a “natural” vitamin E supplement, cream or oil? According to recent tests by independent evaluator ConsumerLab.com, this depends completely on the brand selling it. For some it is the full spectrum of naturally occurring tocopherols and tocotrienols in the vitamin E family. For others, it is primarily d-alpha-tocopherol (the most active vitamin E compound) with little of the related compounds. In one product claiming to be “natural,” it was actually synthetic vitamin E.
In its recent Product Review of Vitamin E Supplements, Creams and Oils, ConsumerLab.com selected and tested 13 different brands of vitamin E products. Eleven of these passed testing, meeting their label claims for natural or synthetic vitamin E. Among these, the least expensive were those with synthetic vitamin E, which cost as little as 2 cents per 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin E. Natural vitamin E supplements cost a bit more, starting at around 8 or 9 cents per 400 IU. However, if you are expecting tens or hundreds of milligrams of other vitamin E antioxidant compounds such as gamma-tocopherol, products cost more—starting at about 20 to 30 cents per 400 IU. Products with additional ingredients or topical creams or oils also cost more to get the same amount of vitamin E.
Vitamin E supplements are fairly popular in the U.S. In a 2011 survey of supplement users, ConsumerLab.com found that 21.7 percent of respondents were taking vitamin E supplements. Many people do not get sufficient vitamin E from what they eat, particularly those on low-fat diets or with medical conditions that cause malabsorption of fats, such as Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis. However, some of the allure of vitamin E supplements was lost when studies showed that they did not protect against heart disease and might raise the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Studies also showed that synthetic vitamin E might increase the risk of prostate cancer, although natural vitamin E may lower the risk. Sales of vitamin E supplements in the U.S. have fallen in recent years but have stabilized at around $340 million according to Nutrition Business Journal. Preliminary research, largely in animals, suggests that natural vitamin E rich in gamma-tocopherol and, depending on the oil source, delta-tocopherol, may be more cancer preventive than alpha-tocopherol alone, which is the only form in synthetic vitamin E.
“Whether you are a consumer or a clinician, it is important to realize that the vitamin E in one supplement may be very different from vitamin E in the next – even if both claim to be “natural,” said ConsumerLab.com President Tod Cooperman, M.D. “This may potentially impact the product’s effectiveness.” he added.
Brands covered in the new report are Carlson E-Gems, CVS pharmacy Vitamin E 400 IU, Derma-e Vitamin E 12,000 IU Crème, Finest Natural (Walgreen) Vitamin E 1,000 IU d-alpha, Garden of Life RAW Vitamin Code Raw Vitamin E, GNC Natural E 400, Jason Vitamin E 5,000 i.u. Pure Natural Skin Oil, Kirkland (Costco) Signature Vitamin E 400 I.U., Life Extension Pure Natural Vitamin E 400 IU, Maxi-Health Circu-E 400 Natural Vitamin E, Nature Made Vitamin E 400 I.U., Nature's Bounty 100% Natural E-400 IU, NOW Advanced Gamma E Complex, Nutrition Now Vitamin E Gummy Vitamins, Puritan's Pride Premium Natural E-400 IU Mixed Tocopherols, Shaklee Vita-E Complex, Simply Right (Sam’s Club) Wellness & Nutrition Vitamin E, Solgar Natural Vitamin E 400 IU, Spring Valley (Walmart) E 400 I.U., Trader Joe's 100% Natural Vitamin E, UNIQUE E, Vitamin World 100% Natural E-400 IU, and Weil Vitamin E Complex.