A number of studies in the 1990s suggested that high doses of vitamin E 1 reduced the risk of heart disease and fatal heart attack and possibly protected against cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Millions of Americans started taking vitamin E, and even doctors who felt that it wouldn't help thought it certainly wouldn't hurt.

But a recent groundbreaking report found that high doses of vitamin E supplements may shorten your life. The study, led by researchers at Johns Hopkins, concluded that taking high doses of vitamin E increases the risk of dying from heart disease and other causes.

The lead author of the report explains more about the study and how much vitamin E you really need…

Placebo-Controlled Studies

Many of the early studies that linked vitamin E supplements with better health were observational. That type of study—including the prestigious Harvard Nurses' Health Study—looks at large numbers of people to identify specific factors, such as diet, exercise, vitamin supplementation, etc., that may lead to lower disease rates.

Observational studies are powerful tools for developing hypotheses that need further study What they can't do is prove that an individual factor is the cause of better health.

People who take vitamin E, for example, also generally take care of themselves and tend not to smoke. An observational study can show that vitamin E is a marker of good health, but not that it's the cause.

A different type of study is needed to prove cause and effect. Our report reviewed 19 previous studies that were placebo-controlled—the gold standard of scientific research. The 136,000 patients in the 19 studies took either a Vitamin E supplement or a placebo. This allowed us to compare the effects of vitamin E supplementation on health outcomes, including death rates.

Soon after we presented our report, a full-page ad appeared in some newspapers disputing our findings. The ad was sponsored by a trade association that represents the dietary supplement industry.

The evidence that it highlighted to demonstrate the efficacy of vitamin E was derived from observational studies, and not from the placebo-controlled studies that were the basis of our research.


Before our report, the American Heart Association (AHA) advised patients not to supplement with vitamin E because there was not enough evidence to prove that it was beneficial.

The AHA recommended instead a diet that is high in food sources of antioxidants and other heart-protecting nutrients. These foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.

Our study found that those who take 400 international units (10) of vitamin E daily have mortality rates that are 5% higher over five years than the rates among those taking placebos.

High-dose supplementation can be dangerous because it…

  • Inhibits the ability of blood to clot. This increases the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding as well as hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain).
  • Seems to suppress the body's endogenous antioxidant system, the mechanism for fighting free radicals, which damage arteries and other body parts.
  • Displaces other antioxidants—including gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E in foods that are needed to inhibit inflammation and/or free-radical assaults.
  • Reduces the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs by 30% to 40%.

Foods Beat Supplements

People need a minimum of 10 IU of vitamin E daily for good health. Food sources include nuts, seeds, soybean oil, whole grains and leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale. The average American gets approximately 14 IU of vitamin E daily. The vitamin E in foods appears to protect against heart disease and other serious health problems in ways that supplements don't.

People who do not eat a lot of these foods may want to supplement…

  • Take a daily multivitamin. The majority of multivitamin/mineral supplements contain 35 to 45 IU of vitamin E. In our study, such low-dose vitamin E supplementation appeared to have a slightly protective effect. Plus, a multivitamin helps ensure that you get adequate amounts of vitamin C, calcium and other essential nutrients.
  • Look for natural vitamin E. Choose a multi that contains the "d" form of vitamin E. It's derived from natural sources and may be more beneficial than the synthetic "di form.

Caution: Never take more than 150 IU daily. No one needs this much vitamin E, but it seems to be the safe upper limit.

If you do take vitamin E supplements, look for ones that contain gamma-tocopherol, often labeled "mixed tocopherols. These are the best choice because they're similar to the form of vitamin E that is found in foods.

Beautiful Heart Helper

Hibiscus flowers may help your heart in the same way as red wine and tea-with antioxidants that help control cholesterol levels and reduce heart disease, according to Chinese researchers.

They found that rats fed a hibiscus flower extract had significantly reduced cholesterol levels in their blood.

"Experiments have shown that compounds extracted from red wine and tea reduce cholesterol and lipid buildup in the arteries of rats," says lead researcher Chau-Jong Wang, of Chung Shan Medical University in China.

"This is the first study to show that hibiscus extract has the same effect."

Hibiscus is used in folk medicine to treat hypertension and liver disorders. It is also used to make popular soft drinks in various countries around the world, the researchers note.

Magnesium Protects Your Heart

A recent study found that men who consumed 340 milligrams (mg) or more of magnesium daily had a lower heart disease risk than those who consumed 186 mg daily or less. Other studies have found that low magnesium levels are associated with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Good sources: Legumes, chicken, prunes, mushrooms, dark-green leafy vegetables,

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