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Confused about vitamin E? Look to diet

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. _ Listening to the controversy generated by recent reports on vitamin E reminded me of what most nutritionists and dietitians have always said: Get your vitamins, first, from food.

It is hard to get an overdose of vitamins _ including vitamin E _ just from eating the vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals that contain it.

But because vitamin E was said to be good for helping to prevent heart attacks and stroke, people thought that more was better. Researchers found that those concerned citizens were taking 400 international units a day or more, over 10 times recommended doses. (But below doses the government had established as tolerable.)

Vitamin E deficiency is rare in humans, except for those with diseases, like Crohn's, that make absorption difficult.

So a daily dose through food, and maybe a multivitamin, wouldn't be excessive. The multivitamin I have on my desk, One A Day/Women's, contains 30 international units of vitamin E, which even critics of massive consumption say is safe.

Over-consumption, however, was found in a study presented to the American Heart Association to not only be ineffective against heart attack and stroke, but possibly even to be detrimental.

While many people were floored by this report, this wasn't the first or only study that showed the ineffectiveness of the vitamin for fighting heart trouble.

From the Web site of the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health _ _posted before the AHA meeting: "Randomized clinical trials raise questions about the efficacy of vitamin E supplements in the prevention of heart disease.

"The Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) Study followed almost 10,000 patients for 4.5 years who were at high risk for heart attack or stroke. In this intervention study the subjects who received 265 mg (400 IU) of vitamin E daily did not experience significantly fewer cardiovascular events or hospitalizations for heart failure or chest pain when compared to those who received a placebo (sugar pill) . . . The study is continuing."

But all is not lost.

New reports from Israel suggest that certain categories of diabetics may still benefit from vitamin E.

Dr. Andrew Levy of the Technion's Rappaport Faculty of Medicine reports in the November issue of the journal, Diabetes Care _ according to the Jerusalem Post _ that around 40 percent of diabetics will reduce their risk of dying from heart disease by taking 400 IU of vitamin E daily.

Levy is quoted as saying that the HOPE study, from which he analyzed blood samples for his research, failed to break down patients the way he had, thus coming to the conclusion that vitamin E was ineffective for prevention.

Still another expert _ the guru of natural eating, Dr. Andrew Weil _ seemed unconcerned about the recent anti-vitamin E study. When he was interviewed on CNN, he suggested it might be prudent to take less than 400 units of E a day but concluded, "I wouldn't worry about it."

This is all very confusing for the average person who just wants a shot at staying healthy.

For me? Continuing to eat the vitamin E-rich foods I love, broccoli and almonds, and popping a vitamin pill daily, will be sufficient.

Carolyn Susman writes for the Palm Beach Post. E-mail:

Cox News Service


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