The consumer has received mixed messages about the vitamin. In the past 18 months there has been considerable debate over the safety of vitamin E from industry and media, much of which was spurred by a widely publicized meta-analysis at the tail end of 2004 that linked vitamin E with an increased risk of all-cause mortality (Annals of Internal Medicine 2005 Jan 4;142(1):37-46).
The symposium, presenting the benefits of vitamin E, followed an ABC Evening News broadcast that quoted two studies reporting health risks from use of the vitamin.
Professor Ronald Watson, Ph.D., from the University of Arizona, moderator of the symposium, said that the ABC report ignored "the many positive studies showing benefits in lowering heart disease, leaving consumers confused."
The symposium, presented as a "Hot Topic" at the annual meeting of the American Oil Chemists Society in Missouri last week, presented "extensive science supporting the role of various vitamin E constituents with careful evaluation and scientific discussion by the large audience of oil chemists, who are experts in nutritional oils," said Prof. Watson.
Watson said that the presentations supported the evolving literature that some natural vitamin E constituents are particularly important for good health. Three of the presentations focused on the natural forms of the vitamin, including NOW Foods' Michael Lelah, PhD., Qing Jiang, PhD., from Purdue University, and Chandan Sen, PhD., from The Ohio State University Medical Center.
Watson said that synthetic vitamin E contains non-functional materials, which serve only to dilute its effectiveness.
"For example recent research has identified a group of components of vitamin E, the tocotrienols, as bioactive. Studies on cell cultures and animals are encouraging human studies on Vitamin E's ability to treat stroke, nerve degeneration etc.
Another example is the focus on gamma-tocopherol, the primary constituent in some dietary supplements. However other vitamin E components, such as delta tocopherol are more valuable to promote health. Unfortunately they are relatively minor constituents, particularly in synthetic vitamin E," he said.
Watson said that consumer confusion was due "poor journalism, which may have the result of discouraging consumers from taking advantage of this beneficial nutrient."
The scientists who presented the studies however must also share some blame. For example, a recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 103, pp. 3604-3609) claimed that gamma-tocopherol could produce a metabolite that was toxic to human cells.
The Ohio State researchers who performed the study later admitted to NutraIngredients-USA that they "were not as clear as they might have been" and stressed that gamma-tocopherol itself was not toxic. It is debatable that the toxic metabolite would even be found in measurable amounts in humans.
The conflicting evidence has left consumers unsure of the benefits and wary of the harm. The supplements industry has seen vitamin E market share nose-dive. Indeed, Cognis Nutrition and Health, one of the leading suppliers of vitamin E in the US recently reported a decrease in demand for its natural vitamin E products of 40 per cent, which led to a drop in revenues of 18 per cent in 2005.