Periodical E: true story

Section: Health & Healing: wellness solutions from a natural perspective

There's good news behind the bad news about vitamin E.

THE MORE YOU READ ABOUT VITAMIN E, the more confusing it gets. This year, two studies challenged the antioxidant's reputation for staving off heart trouble. Researchers at the Women's Health Study concluded that women who consumed 600 IU of vitamin E on alternate days weren't protected from heart disease, while a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the supplements might slightly increase the risk of heart failure.

That, however, isn't the whole picture, says Maret G. Traber, Ph.D., a professor at Oregon State University and a principal investigator — with a focus on vitamin E — at the Linus Pauling Institute in Corvallis. While vitamin E supplementation may not cure heart disease, Traber asserts that the most important finding in the Women's Health Study was that vitamin E did trim the chances of major cardiovascular events by 26 percent in women past the age of 65. "I think that's really fantastic evidence vitamin E is beneficial to women who are at risk for heart disease," which, she says, includes pretty much every woman over 65.

According to Traber, E is still for everyone. It's a required nutrient that protects vitamin A and essential fatty acids, and stops the breakdown of body tissues. "Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant, and that's its main function," Traber says. "It prevents the oxidation of cholesterol and fats to prevent the formation of arterial lesions known as atherosclerosis."
how much?

The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin E is 15 milligrams, but many adults don't get enough from food sources alone, especially if they're watching their weight. "Most vitamin E is from fats and oils, but dietary recommendations [for healthy eating] are to limit fats and oils," says Traber. Prime food sources of vitamin E include almonds (7 mg per ounce), sunflower oil (6 mg per tablespoon), and avocado (3 mg per cup), all of which are full of fat and calories.

To make matters trickier, there are different forms of vitamin E. Alpha-tocopherol is the kind the body uses, but highly processed foods contain a type called gamma-tocopherol, which isn't nearly as useful. If your normal diet is E-erratic, Traber suggests taking a multivitamin, which will ensure proper intake of vitamin E while keeping calories in check. "All multi-vitamins have 30 IU of synthetic vitamin E, which will provide the 15 milligrams of alpha-tocopherol you need daily," she says.

Because vitamin E is fat-soluble, it's best to swallow it with food. "Take it with your dinner or with a meal that includes a fair amount of fat, or at bedtime when you have food in your stomach," she adds.
extra e

Are there times when you need more than the RDA? Vitamin E might be important in protecting immune function, says Simin Nikbin Meydani, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the nutritional immunology laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. For older adults, he recommends 200 IU per day "to improve immune response and reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections, particularly the common cold."

Though the risks of taking supplemental vitamin E for most people are slim to none — only those with blood-clotting problems or a vitamin K deficiency need to steer clear, says Meydani — there's no point taking in more than your body can use.

"The upper limit [of what's safe] is 1,000 milligrams [1,500IU]," says Traber. "But you don't need anywhere near that much. Your body will reach maximum vitamin E concentrations if you take more than 400 IU a day of natural or synthetic vitamin E."

PHOTO (COLOR): HEADLINES ASIDE, vitamin E's antioxidant power does combat oxidative stress that contributes to heart disease.

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By Lorie A. Parch

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