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Vitamin E Is Not Harmful

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Q: I've been taking vitamin E for many years now. But I recently heard that if you have heart disease, it does more harm than good. Apparently, there was a "study" made. Have you heard anything about this?

-- A.B., Buffalo

A: In the last few weeks, a medical study was published that didn't show vitamin E to be effective against heart disease. Since this confirms another major study that was reported three years ago, it's probably a good bet that it's not very helpful in this regard.

On the other hand, some earlier studies have shown that there is a benefit, so naturally, people are confused. In both sets of studies, whether an overall benefit was found or not, some people seem to have been helped, but who they are is unclear.

However, I have not heard of a medical study showing that vitamin E actually causes harm to a person with heart disease. In fact, it's the relative safety of vitamin E that has added to people's hopes that it might be beneficial. Later I'll discuss some safety issues.

Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, comes in many forms and preparations. And it has been studied in the treatment of over 30 diseases, with good success against only a few of them.

I think the most promising area of research is its impact on immunity. One study found a greatly increased immune response in people who received vaccinations. And, probably related to the effect on the immune system, vitamin E has been shown to be somewhat beneficial in prostate cancer, liver cancer and cancers of the upper digestive tract.

Another condition in which vitamin E has been shown to be effective is preeclampsia. This is a complication of pregnancy in which the blood pressure rises, the body retains fluids and kidney function is impaired. Larger studies are also needed here to confirm results.

Like all vitamins, vitamin E is a relatively safe drug when taken in normal doses. However, its ability to decrease blood clotting -- the reason it was explored in preventing and treating heart disease - - should cause caution in its use. This is particularly true when a person is taking other drugs that reduce clotting such as aspirin, or has a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia or hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke.

The normal therapeutic dose of vitamin E is in the range of 400 to 800 IU (international units). It can be in a natural or synthetic form, but only about half of the synthetic form of vitamin E is absorbed.

(C) 2003 Buffalo News. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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