Too much vitamin E: too much of a good thing?

Are you getting too much vitamin E? You body's favorite antioxidant has gotten a bad rap lately as some studies have suggested that it statistically increases the risk of death or other ailments. This idea can be frightening to someone who puts faith in vitamins and supplements. This article highlights those studies, and where applicable, points out studies which argue the contrary. The bottom line is that vitamin E is quite safe, as shown by years of clinical work.

The controversy began with a 2005 study that suggested that vitamin E supplementation may increase the risk of all-cause mortality (1). The study was a meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials carried out over a 38 year period. Further analysis demonstrated that the increased risk of death only became significant over 2000 IU/day, higher than the UL stated above (2).

And as a side note, an Australian study (3) and a French study (4) both showed some data where supplementation with vitamin E actually increased risks for some forms of skin cancer. These data are quite controversial, however, as they go against years of information suggesting that vitamin E is very good for the skin and prevents skin cancer (5).

As I've recommended on other pages in this site, substantial benefits exist at 200 mg/day supplementation of d-alpha tocopherol, which has been shown to be safe in many clinical studies. And more generally, you don't need to stress your body out with mega doses of vitamins just to get the antioxidant benefits. Too much vitamin E really is too much.

If you do taking too much vitamin E all at once, here is what happens

1. Miller, ER, Pastor-Barriuso, R, Dalal, D, et al. "Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality." Ann Internal Med. 142 (2005) 37-46.
2. Hathcock, JN, Azzi, A, Blumberg, J, et al. "Vitamins E and C are safe across a broad range of intakes." Am J Clin Nutr. 81 (2005) 736.
3. Heinen, MM, Hughes, MC, Ibiebele, TI. "Intake of antioxidant nutrients and the risk of skin cancer." Eur J Cancer. 43 (2007) 2707-16.
4. Hercberg, S, Ezzedine, K, Guinot, C, et al. "Antioxidant supplementation increases the risk of skin cancers in women, but not in men." J Nutr. 137 (2007) 2098-105.
5. Thiele, JJ, Ekanayake-Mudiyanselage, S. "Vitamin E in human skin: organ-specific physiology and considerations for its use in dermatology." Mol Aspects Med. 28 (2007) 646-67.