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Vitamins C & E in the News
Brought to you from the NEEDS Wellness Team

Our Wellness Educators are receiving numerous calls from those fearing that the vitamin E they've been taking has taken years off their life or that vitamin C might actually be making a diabetic person more prone to heart disease. This after the media reported these conclusions based on two recent studies. But were their reports accurate?

Late in 2004, researchers at Johns Hopkins University published results stating that "people who took vitamin E [greater than 400 IU per day] had a six percent greater risk of dying from all-cause mortality than those who did not take vitamin E." Scary stuff, but let's take a closer look.

First of all, the vitamin E study wasn't actually a clinical trial; instead, it was a "metaanalysis," a statistical technique for combining the results of many existing studies. While meta-analyses can be useful, statisticians warn of their ability to contort the truth. This particular meta-analysis used only 19 clinical trials (out of a total of 2,170 studies) in which vitamin E was given either alone or in a multivitamin. This was not a look at how vitamin E may prevent disease in a healthy population; instead, all patients had significant medical problems, including heart disease and cancer. Researchers even excluded studies in which fewer than 10 people died. Contrary to the headlines, a deeper overall analysis showed NO harm from vitamin E. Adjusting for higher dosages (above 900 IU a day), they found that there was a small increase in overall death. What they failed to state, however, was that people who had been taking the higher dosages were more ill to begin with. In other words, the vitamin E didn't necessarily cause the deaths, but were associated with them. It's a well-known fact that the more ill people are, the more supplements they take.

On the positive side, numerous studies and at least three other meta-analyses have shown that so-called "high dose" vitamin E significantly reduces risks of cardiovascular, neurological, other degenerative diseases, and cancer. A study in England showed that vitamin E levels at 400 and 800 IU reduced the risk of heart attack by 75 percent in men who already had symptoms of heart disease. A study conducted by the National Institute of Aging found that those who used supplements of vitamins C and E had a 53 percent reduction in mortality from heart disease and a 42 percent reduction in all-cause mortality. And one study showed that a very high dose of vitamin E (2000 IU per day) slowed the progression of

Alzheimer's disease. The Institute of Medicine and the federal government agree, vitamin E is safe at levels as high as 1600 IU per day for natural mixed vitamin E, or 1000 IU for synthetic vitamin E. We suggest mixed tocopherols, and perhaps even tocotrienols, to receive the widest benefits of the different forms of vitamin E.

Regarding vitamin C, researchers at the University of Minnesota looked at data on about 1,900 women who participated in the Iowa Women's Health Study. All were postmenopausal and diabetic. They concluded that vitamin C intake greater than 300 mg per day raises the risk of heart disease in women with diabetes. The story here is the same as that of vitamin E—people who are diabetic or have heart disease are more likely to be taking high-dose vitamin pills. The researchers even concede this point in the journal article, but that wasn't conveyed by the media.

Other studies show the benefits of taking vitamin C. A study in the United Kingdom of 6,000 diabetics who took vitamin C indicated that those who had the highest concentrations of vitamin C had the lowest risk of diabetic complications.

Didn't Linus Pauling win the Nobel Peace Prize for his study of the health benefits from taking high dose (20,000 mg and above) vitamin C?

Studies and statistics can be very useful to help determine what works and what doesn't. However, they certainly can be prone to bias and manipulation. I was discussing just this with a friend. He shared with me that the textbook he used for his statistics class in college was titled, How to Lie with Statistics.


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