Can Vitamin E Kill You…
Or Is the Media Blowing Hot Air??
In early January of 2005, headlines reading “Vitamin E May Kill You” or similar phrases were broadcast across the world, shocking and scaring many people. What is the evidence behind these headlines?
The information in question comes from research reported at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, and released on the web site of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers concluded that daily Vitamin E doses of 400 international units (IU) or more can increase the risk of death and should be avoided.
This conclusion was based on a meta-analysis of 19 Vitamin E studies that looked at 136,000 patients with heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. “It was clear that as the Vitamin E dose increased, so does the all-cause mortality,” stated Johns Hopkins University researcher and associate professor of medicine Edgar R. Miller, MD, PhD.
But was this broad statement justified? Only one of the 19 studies showed any statistical significance with regards to Vitamin E and mortality – the other 18 showed no increase in mortality. It appears that the data was pooled to arrive at a desired conclusion that is based on a statistical artifact. The conclusion was not based on a true scientific analysis of the 19 studies. Rather, it was based on an artificial statistic that was made to look comprehensive and convincing by referring to the 19 studies.
The one study that did show supposed statistical significance in fact showed only a “relative” 10% increase in mortality. A “relative increase” is a statistical term for a manipulation of data that makes small differences appear much larger. For example, if 10 of 1000 people taking no vitamin E died, and 11 of 1000 taking vitamin E died, that would be a 10 per cent relative increase in mortality in those taking Vitamin E. But the actual increase was only 1 person in 1000 – 0.1 percent. This kind of trick is often performed to make drugs look good and vitamins, herbs and food supplements look bad.
Furthermore, Miller and the other authors of the meta-analysis did not specify what forms of vitamin E were used in the 19 studies. Many studies use the synthetic form of alpha-tocopherol, which has a distinctly different chemistry and less beneficial effect than the natural form. And such studies typically do not use Vitamin E containing the important beta-, delta- and gamma-tocopherols. These are reasonable explanations why the studies did not show a decrease in mortality in the subjects taking Vitamin E.