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DSM: Additional research will underpin vitamin E's decisive benefits

By Hank Schultz , 02-Jun-2014

Magic bullet syndrome is something that has plagued the dietary supplement ingredient business over the years. While this is often negative for consumers, who put their faith into an overhyped (while still possibly effective) ingredient, it’s not so good for the bullet, either. Just ask the companies that supply vitamin E, such as DSM Nutritional Products.

The initial love affair with vitamins was  kicked off in part by Nobel laureate Linus Pauling’s advocacy of mega doses of vitamins, vitamin C in particular. In that era, starting in the 1970s, standalone vitamin products were all the rage, and that included single-ingredient vitamin E offerings. Vitamin E had been promoted as a potent antioxidant with a wide array of health and anti aging benefits.

Hype hangover

After that hype wore off, and the effects of publicity surrounding certain more recent equivocal studies began to be felt, the outlook for vitamin E dimmed considerably.  It has come to the point where researchers find it difficult to move forward with science on the ingredient, said Michael McBurney, vice president of science communcations and advocacy for DSM.

“There was a lot of promotion of vitamin E in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and in cancer prevention. We invested in vitamin E as this magic bullet and it wasn’t.  So there are very few researchers working on vitamin E now and it has been very difficult for those researchers to get funding for vitamin E,” McBurney told NutraIngredients-USA.

Even though vitamin E’s reputation is somewhat tarnished, that hasn’t changed the essential nature of the nutrient, McBurney said.  And modern consumers, following diets heavy on processed foods and heeding decades of changing diet advice from health authorities, are not getting enough.

“The reason we don’t get enough is because of our dietary choices,” McBurney said. “Vitamin E is present in whole cereal grains, nuts, oils and butter.  We have had guidance for many years now to reduce fat intake.  We are not eating enough nuts and whole grains and we have changed the fat sources we consume.”

The result?  While it does not perhaps approach critical deficiency, from an epedemiological standpoint vitmain E levesl have been falling steadily, McBurney saaid.

“The medical community has really turned its back on vitamin E.  Sales have fallen and single ingredient vitamin E product usage has really fallen off,” he said.

“The original randomized trials looking into vitamin E’s effects were done on populations with good vitamin E status.  Now 65% of Americans are below the starting levels of vitamin E (as measured in serum) of those studies,” McBurney said.

Vitamin D research offers road map

DSM strongly advocates more study into vitmain E’s baseline effects, such as had been done in recent years with vitamin D.

“The past two dietary guidelines committees have identified nutrients of concern as calcium, dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin D. Health authorities admit that 90% of consumers are not getting enough vitamin E but they judge it to be a nonissue, because they don’t see evidence of deficiency disease,” McBurney said. “If you go back many years, they used to say the same thing about vitamin D, because they didn’t see rampant rickets in this country.  Then after the method of measuring 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels became available, it turned out those levels (as measured in the blood) were quite important.

“I would say to you that the same is true of vitamin E.  We need more research that connects vitamin E status to functional outcomes,” McBurney said.

McBurney pointed to research presented at a recent meeting of the Oxygen Club of California at the Univeristy of California-Davis as positive developments in the sector.  Studies presented at the meeting, which took place May 7 though 10, included the role of vitamin E in ameliorating the consequences of having suffered a stroke, the vitamin’s role in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and its role in membrane repair, among others.  McBurney said DSM is actively looking at ways to collaborate on future research.

“We are intersted in looking at opportunies at identifying the status of vitamin E and associating that with fucntional outcomes. We are looking at what the status of Americanas is from NHANES database, not just relying on food survey results,” McBurney said. “This is not just a supplementation story. This is a nutrition story. This is something that affects all of us.”

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