Q. Is vitamin E still safe?

A. Vitamin E is composed of multiple subfractions. Supplementation with alpha-tocopherol alone may reduce blood levels of gamma- and delta-tocopherol. This is important because gamma- and delta-tocopherol are critical to health. As discussed below, Ray & Terry believe that inclusion of mixed tocopherols, found in the Total Care Daily formulation, is safe and healthful.

The following is additional information on this question from our web site: http://www.fantastic-voyage.net/ReaderQandA.htm

Many vitamin E users were upset to read the headline from the November 11, 2004 issue of USA Today -- "Study: High dose of vitamin E may increase death risk." This has led to a storm of controversy about the safety of Vitamin E supplementation. This concern is largely the result of a recent scientific paper by Miller et al entitled "Meta-Analysis: High-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality" that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine."

What the researchers from Johns Hopkins found was that people who took 400 units or more of what they describe as "vitamin E" had a 5% greater risk of premature death than people who took lower doses. Therefore, the researchers concluded "High dosage vitamin E supplements may increase mortality and should be avoided."
There are several flaws with this "meta analysis." According to Steven Milloy of FOXNews.com's "Junk Science," "The researchers didn't study any vitamin E-users first-hand; instead they simply reviewed data from 19 earlier vitamin E clinical trials, including 11 'high dose' trials. But 10 of the 11 'high-dose' trials didn't make any statistically significant correlations between vitamin E use and premature death."

The research in the paper was a meta study, meaning that it combined data from other studies. While results of meta studies can be valid, there are methodological challenges in combining studies that have different control guidelines. The biggest problem with this paper, however, was its confusion of the terms "vitamin E" and "alpha tocopherol." It used these terms interchangeably, and did not take into account that vitamin E is not the same thing as alpha-tocopherol, but contains several other components such as beta-, delta-, and gamma-tocopherol in addition to alpha. Rather, the generic term "vitamin E" was used throughout the paper:

According to Huang and Appel, we know that "Vitamin E is a collective term for eight naturally occurring compounds, four tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta) and four tocotrienols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta)." Yet, by equating alpha-tocopherol with vitamin E, the authors of the meta analysis arrived at seriously flawed conclusions about vitamin E. Their conclusions only apply to alpha-tocopherol.

In addition "these eight forms of vitamin E are not interconvertible in humans." According to Huang and Appel, when people supplement their diets with alpha-tocopherol alone, they reduce their blood levels of gamma- and delta-tocopherol. This is important because gamma- and delta-tocopherol are critical to health. Many researchers now believe that gamma-tocopherol is the most important fraction in vitamin E, contributing to vitamin E's well-known anti-oxidant benefits. In fact, gamma-tocopherol constitutes 70% of the vitamin E consumed in the average American diet.

Therefore, we can draw the following conclusions:

  1. People who take alpha-tocopherol alone may have a slightly increased risk of death. (Five per cent is barely "statistically significant.").
  2. Alpha-tocopherol is not the same thing as vitamin E, as Vitamin E is really composed of multiple subfractions.
  3. Gamma-tocopherol is a critically important form of vitamin E in terms of anti oxidant benefit.
  4. Gamma-tocopherol is the most common dietary form of vitamin E.
  5. Alpha-tocopherol supplementation decreases gamma-tocopherol levels.

Therefore, the primary conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that you might have a slightly increased risk of premature death if you take alpha-tocopherol alone. We recommend, therefore, that you do not take alpha-tocopherol as a stand-alone vitamin E supplement. Instead, you should take a blend which contains all of the vitamin E subfractions.

In Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, M.D.’s book, Fantastic Voyage, Live Long Enough to Live Forever, we recommend that people do not take just alpha tocopherol, but take a vitamin E blend that includes all the tocopherols including gamma tocopherol. The Vitamin E contained in Ray & Terry's Total Daily Care is such a vitamin E blend.

  1. Huang HY and Appel LJ, Supplementation of diets with alpha-tocopherol reduces serum concentrations of gamma- and delta-tocopherol in humans. J Nutr, 2003. 133(10): p. 3137-40.
  2. Devaraj S and Traber MG, ?-Tocopherol, the new vitamin E? Am J Clin Nutr, 2003. 77: p. 530-31.
  3. Wagner KH et al, Gamma-tocopherol--an underestimated vitamin? Ann Nutr Metab, 2004. 48(3): p. 169-88.