One fundamental purpose of dietary supplements is to replace the vital components that are stripped from food during processing. These vital health promoting nutrients do not accidentally disappear based on modern day processing methods; they are purposely removed to allow for long-term storage and distribution. Vitamin E is a key example.
The process of making foods stable produces a subset of highly nutritious goop that was one thrown out as waste . . . or at least until vitamin E became popular. At that point food scientists were put to the task of turning this waste into the vitamin E that many of us consume today.
This is where things went wrong. This left over material was subjected to a long list of industrial processes to turn it into something that is now called “natural vitamin E.” What was once a group of eight active vitamin E molecules in a dynamic state of antioxidant potential is now one molecule with only a fraction of its original antioxidant activity. This lack of antioxidant activity is why the vitamin can sit on a shelf for years.
Upon consumption your body can and will convert this into an active antioxidant, but only at the expense of other vital nutrients. This also provides only one of the eight vitamin E compounds that nature has to offer. So the term “natural vitamin E” is one that is misused … actually abused.
Most vitamin companies are more interested in competing based on price, fads, consumer trends and consumer beliefs than supporting science and consumer education. This is just the way corporate America works . . . money talks and sometimes science walks.
From a corporate standpoint, it is very difficult to discuss the true science about vitamin E when it goes against the products you have sold for many years. From a personal standpoint, it is also difficult to accept this research when you have taken and recommended vitamin E for years. We must all get passed this.
This reminds me of the auto industry of the 1970’s. Resistant to change, not concerned about the environment, and a bit lazy about forward thinking. Bigger is better was also a focus of the auto industry of those times and the vitamin E market of today. Recent science indicates the large dosage that industry pushes, and consumers demand, does more harm than good.
It is hard to say if the negative studies are a result of the large dosage, or the unbalanced nature of commercial vitamin E supplements. Until more data comes out, it would be wise to take lower potency and balanced vitamin E supplements.
The potency of a vitamin E supplement is also a moving target. The international unit (IU) of vitamin E activity is based on science dating back some 70 years. It is based on the reproductive ability of rats and involved only one of the eight vitamin E molecules. Recent research indicates the other vitamin E molecules are very important to human health and test very low in terms of IU’s.
The future of vitamin E labeling should include not only the IU activity but also the weight of each vitamin E molecule in milligrams (mg). Only then will consumers be able to assess the quality and potency of a vitamin E supplement.