Many of my patients have asked me whether they should continue to take vitamin E after hearing media reports that vitamin E increases stroke risk. You might have the same question.
So to set the record straight, vitamin E protects against the most common type of stroke, ischemic stroke (which is caused by an obstruction in a blood vessel in the brain. There is little controversy about this and the study published in BMI (British Medical Journal) that sparked the concern about vitamin E confirmed the validity of this even though the media didn't highlight this finding. The researchers found that people who took vitamin E supplements had a 10% lower risk for ischemic stroke than those not taking vitamin E.
The finding that the media chose to focus on from the BMJ study and that caused all the controversy was this in an analysis of nine previously published studies, people taking vitamin E had a 22% greater risk for a different type of stroke, hemorrhagic stroke (caused when a weakened blood vessel in the brain ruptures) than those not taking vitamin E. This finding shouldn't be ignored, but it would have been more responsible reporting to also remind the public that vitamin E protected against the most common type of stroke.
In addition to my objections to the way this study was reported, I have concerns about the analysis itself. There were a number of variables in the nine studies analyzed, including a wide range of vitamin E doses...the type of supplement taken (natural and synthetic...and varying ages and health of the study participants. I don't think anyone can draw conclusions from all this disparate information.
My view: Most people are far more likely to suffer an ischemic stroke than a hemorrhagic stroke. Since vitamin E supplements will help reduce your risk for this most common type of stroke, the benefit-to-risk ratio of taking a vitamin E supplement is in most people's favor. That's why I'm still taking my vitamin E-and recommending it to my patients. My preference is a vitamin E brand that contains both tocopherols and tocotrienols. A good dose to maintain health is 400 international units (IU) daily. If you are taking blood-thinning medication, consult with a doctor before taking vitamin E because it has a blood-thinning effect. To decrease your risk for any type of stroke, maintain a healthy blood pressure and practice good diet and exercise habits.
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