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How Safe Is Vitamin E?

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Have recent alarmist headlines targeting supplements got you wondering whether vitamin E is safe? If you’ve been taking regularly because you understand how important this antioxidant nutrient is to health and longevity, you may be wondering if you should stop. The short answer is no, you should not stop taking vitamin E, and yes, it is safe and has many beneficial effects on health.

The truth is that vitamin E saves lives. Many more people will be harmed by misleading vitamin E headlines than by taking vitamin E. Research reports are often misinterpreted by the press. Before you toss out your vitamin E pills, let’s examine vitamin E’s safety profile a bit more closely.

Is vitamin E safe at the 400 IU level?

Yes. The Women’s Health Study (WHS), which followed 39,876 U.S. female health professionals for over a decade and evaluated the benefits and risks of vitamin E at the 400 IU dosage level. (This is the dosage most commonly found in vitamin E 400/400 supplements.) The WHS was the largest vitamin E study ever conducted according to the scientific gold standard (randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled). The study was continuously monitored by an independent board and extended several times. If vitamin E had been found to be harmful, the study would have been stopped. Tens of millions Americans take vitamin E supplements regularly. By far, the most popular dose is 400 IU. Vitamin E supplements have been around since the 50s. It would have been next to impossible for harmful effects not to surface. (We did not need clinical data to recognize the harmful effects of smoking!)

Is vitamin E perfectly safe at any level?

Well, nothing is perfectly safe at all levels, all the time. Sunshine, oxygen, water and even essential vitamins and minerals can be harmful in some situations. Yet vitamin E has a very wide margin of safety for most people. People on blood thinning medications, problems with blood clotting and vitamin K deficiency need to be careful because vitamin E has mild blood thinning properties. It is also prudent to check with your physician if you have a chronic condition and take medications before taking high levels of any supplement, including vitamin E.

Expert Recommendations

The best vitamin E products contain all eight members of the vitamin E family—tocopherols plus tocotrienols—in their natural unesterified form. Only the complete family provides the full benefit and most likely the highest degree of safety. For most people, especially those over 40, the best choice is a 400/400 formulation. Younger people and those that prefer a lower dose may want to consider a 100/100 formulation. For people with special needs such as high risk of Alzheimer’s or prostate cancer, I recommend products high in gamma-tocopherol. For cardiovascular health, I recommend products rich in .

The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: Vitamin E at the 400 IU level is safe, beneficial and appears to decrease (not increase) mortality. (The Upper Safe Limit for vitamin E is actually set at 1,500 IU.) Don’t let misleading headlines scare you out of taking steps to protect your health with this important antioxidant nutrient.


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Article updated on: January 28th, 2009

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