Editorial: To E or not to E
The topic likely generates an “I've already experienced this” feeling in other ways as well. Controversy has raged for decades over the benefits of adding vitamin E. In the 1970s, while studying for my M.S. degree at the University of Minnesota's Department of Food Science and Nutrition, I wrote “Debunking the Vitamin E Myth.” Much time was spent plodding through hundreds of references in search of solid research (hopefully published in high-profile journals, such as those of the American Medical or American Dietetics associations) supporting the heart-disease- and cancer-preventing--even libido-enhancing--properties claimed for vitamin E. They were very hard to find.
Fast-forward to the 1990s: “It's been quite an embarrassment to the nutritional community,” my ex-professor once said to me (the one for whom I had written the earlier paper). Vitamin E's positive benefits appeared unquestioned in the media. A friend even advised me not to mention the university paper I had penned.
Fast-forward again to the present, when a meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials by Johns Hopkins University researcher Dr. Edgar Miller and others is being published in the January 2005 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. The highly publicized paper reported a statistically significant increase in higher overall death rates when supplements of greater than 150IU of vitamin E were consumed per day.
So, don't take vitamin E. Or, maybe you should. The dust from Miller's research had not settled yet when the November 2004 issue of the American Diabetes Association's journal, Diabetes Care, published a paper reporting that, by taking 400IU of vitamin E per day, some diabetic patients can reduce their risk of dying from heart disease by 55%. It noted that previous negative conclusions on supplementation could not rule out the potential benefit for high-risk groups. In addition, the Annals of Internal Medicine editors offered several cautions in drawing conclusions from Miller's research--noting, for example, that trials that tested high vitamin E dosages involved adults with chronic diseases. These findings may not be “generalizable” to healthy adults. Perhaps the simplest take-away message for now is, once again, everything in moderation…so boring!