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Not Any Old Vitamin E Prevents, Reverses Lung Cancer

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

Vitamin E

Story at-a-glance -

  • Media headlines have highlighted a recent study showing vitamin E may accelerate lung cancer, without mentioning the study used synthetic vitamin E
  • Synthetic vitamin E is a byproduct of the petrochemical industry and has been linked to cancer, endocrine-disrupting activities, pneumonia, and more
  • Natural vitamin E has been shown to help prevent lung, prostate, and breast cancers
  • The best way to get natural vitamin E is via your diet, in foods like nuts and green leafy vegetables
  • If you use a supplement, natural vitamin E is always listed as the "d-" form (d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol, etc.) while synthetic vitamin E is listed as "dl-" forms

By Dr. Mercola

The media has given an astounding amount of attention to a recent study that found vitamin E may increase tumor progression, and accelerate lung cancer, in mice.1

Unfortunately, they are only adding to the major cgonfusion surrounding vitamin E, which is a potent antioxidant and immune-system booster provided it's consumed in the correct form.

Your body can easily distinguish between natural and synthetic vitamins, the latter of which may not only be less effective but may also have unintended negative consequences in your body. This is often the case with vitamin E, the synthetic form of which was used in the recent media-hyped lung cancer study.

Synthetic Vitamin E May Cause Lung Cancer

This is what the media headlines should have read, but very few media outlets have made the distinction that the study used DL-a-tocopheryl acetate, a synthetic form of vitamin E.

Synthetic vitamin E is a "byproduct of a petrochemical-dependent manufacturing process and may have adverse endocrine-disrupting activities."2

It is this synthetic form of vitamin E that has previously been linked to increased risks of prostate cancer, along with other ill effects such as a hemorrhagic stroke and pneumonia.3 The Toxicology Data Network also lists numerous health problems related to synthetic vitamin E at various dosages.4

Many are simply not aware that the term "vitamin E" actually refers to a family of at least eight fat-soluble antioxidant compounds, divided into two groups of molecules:

  • Tocopherols (which are considered the "true" vitamin E)
  • Tocotrienols

Each of the tocopherol and tocotrienol subfamilies also contains four different forms:

  • Alpha-
  • Beta-
  • Gamma-
  • Delta-

Each one of these subgroups has its own unique biological effects. Ideally, vitamin E should be consumed in the broader family of mixed natural tocopherols and tocotrienols, (also referred to as full-spectrum vitamin E) to get the maximum benefits.

The problem, as was once again highlighted with the aforementioned lung cancer study, is the vitamin E most often referred to in research (and sold in most stores) is the synthetic form of the vitamin, which will not provide your body with the benefits that natural full-spectrum vitamin E will.

The featured lung cancer study, for instance, not only used synthetic vitamin E (tocopheryl) but also neglected to include any tocotrienols, which have previously been shown to kill cancer stem cells, the most malignant of all cells with a tumor.5 As noted by Dr. Andrew Saul, the study was set up to fail:6

"Synthetic vitamin E was selected. It did not work. Natural vitamin E was not used. Tocotrienols were not used. I challenge any scientist or journalist to try to explain these omissions away."

Natural Vitamin E May Prevent Cancer, Benefit Alzheimer's, and More

If the lung cancer study had used natural vitamin E for its research, they may have gotten entirely different results, as natural vitamin E has shown many cancer-fighting properties. For instance:

  • 300 IUs of natural vitamin E per day may reduce lung cancer risk by 61 percent7
  • Gamma-tocotrienol, a cofactor found in natural vitamin E preparations, may decrease prostate tumor formation by 75 percent8
  • Gamma-tocotrienol also fights existing prostate cancer tumors and may inhibit growth in human breast cancer cells9

Aside from its cancer-preventive potential, natural vitamin E has also shown promise for:

  • Relieving the majority of symptoms associated with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a common obesity-related fatty liver disease.
  • Helping to delay loss of cognitive function, such as planning and organizing, in Alzheimer's patients.10 (This study actually used synthetic alpha-tocopherol that was not balanced with tocotrienols or any of the other tocopherols — beta, gamma, and delta. Chances are the benefits would have been even greater if the natural form was used.)
  • Lowering your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss in the elderly.11
  • Boosting the improvements in blood vessel function that occur when a smoker quits smoking.12

The differing effects of synthetic versus natural vitamin E are significant, so if you're interested in supporting your health, you should seek vitamin E in its natural form only – ideally from food but alternatively from a natural supplement. You can tell which you're buying by carefully reading the label.

  • Natural vitamin E is always listed as the "d-" form (d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol, etc.)
  • Synthetic vitamin E is listed as "dl-" forms

Note that when vitamin E is stabilized by adding either succinic acid or acetic acid, the chemical name changes from tocopherol to tocopheryl (as in d-alpha-tocopheryl succinate, for example).

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Are You Getting Enough Vitamin E From Your Diet?

According to the National Institutes of Health:13 "The diets of most Americans provide less than the recommended amounts of vitamin E." That recommended amount is just 22 IUs of vitamin E daily, an amount that Dr. Evan Shute, a physician recognized for his 30-plus years of work with vitamin E, believes is still far too low. He suggests average healthy women should have 400 IUs a day while men should have 600 IUs daily.

The best way to ensure that your body is getting the full spectrum of vitamin E, in a form your body can beneficially use, is to make smart dietary choices. Tocopherol and its subgroups are found in certain nuts and green leafy vegetables, for instance. Sources of tocotrienols include palm oil, rice bran, and barley oils.

While vitamin E is also found in vegetable oils, these are many reasons not to include these in your diet, including the facts that they will become rancid and oxidized when heated and typically are made from genetically engineered crops. So there are actually relatively few healthful dietary sources of vitamin E, which is why a natural supplement may be necessary for some. If you're interested in increasing your dietary sources of vitamin E, try eating more:

  • Nuts, such as hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, and pecans
  • Legumes
  • Green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli

More Natural Tips for Lung Cancer Prevention

Some people think only those who smoke can get lung cancer. While it is true that smoking is the greatest risk factor for lung cancer, there are a number of other ways that you can contract this disease. Interestingly, it was recently suggested that a radioactive fertilizer, polonium, found in cigarettes may be primarily responsible for their lung-cancer connection. However, even if you don't smoke, you can be at significant risk for developing lung cancer if one or more of the following risk factors are present:

  • Exposure to radon
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Air pollution
  • Exposure to other chemicals
  • Increasing age

In addition to avoiding these risk factors as much as possible, you can reduce your risk for lung cancer (and other types of cancer) by following these top 10 cancer prevention tips.