Often articles (actually expanded headlines) about natural medicine appear in the media, and many of you are kind enough to alert me to their presence. This has happened recently in regards to an article about Vitamin E. Please follow carefully the steps of the “game” I describe in the following newsletter. In the future, perhaps some of you would like to become unofficial fact checkers for those of us working together at SFPMG to optimize our choices in health. Let me know if you do. Future articles such as these are going to have to be researched by ourselves it seems. We only want to know the truth.
If someday a bio identical vitamin, hormone, amino acid, herb, diet, etc. does prove to be harmful, we want to be the first to know. On the other hand, we do not want to be guided away from good health choices by medical researchers, headlines and media reports which mislead by not having adequate knowledge of their subject. For now in the evolvement of natural medicine, many otherwise competent doctors still simply do not know that there is a field of therapy of which they as yet have little understanding. Because of that, their research attempts and results, as shown below, can become seriously flawed and cause more harm than good.
Enjoy the read. The story behind the headlines has elements of being predictable, but still surprising in the level of lack of knowledge shown:
The long awaited conclusion of the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) study has been published. It was supposed to be a great definitive study of how Vit E affects the risk of prostate cancer. But no Vitamin E was used in the study. Easy to see with a glance at the study. A freshman in a Natural Medical college would note it immediately. Yet the study generated headlines stating that the cancer risk was increased by 17% in those people “taking Vit E”. How can this enormous error go unchallenged? The “let’s play slam-natural-supplements game” with headlines that are designed to frighten the viewers/readers. Not to be required to give the facts behind the headlines has become a necessary part of the game.
The first step to get the headline “game” going begins with choosing a non-bio identical vitamin derived from a natural vitamin as the sole research subject in a study claiming to be testing the effects of a vitamin. The compound studied must never have evolved anywhere in the plant or animal kingdom before being created in a chemistry lab. This is important because it will insure a negative result and generate the necessary frightening headlines. The SELECT study accomplished this first step. The so-called Vit E they used does not exist anywhere in nature. The second step is to call this compound the same name as the original bio identical compound and presume no one will notice. Not one news entity noted that no USA or International body of science nomenclature (naming) has ever agreed to call the molecule the researchers used Vit E. It was named Vit E by marketing interests to sell the compound. Second step accomplished. The third step is to do a double blind study carefully so it can be critiqued positively on structural grounds. Third step done. The fourth step is to be sure the press releases name their compound as if real Vit E was used. All of these four steps were accomplished.
With almost certainty, the resulting study will point out an increased risk of disease. Headlines and notoriety follow. Researchers bask in a certain type of professional acclaim. It is never mentioned that it has been proven repeatedly that ANY non-bio identical compound that is taken daily for years by humans or animals will create increased disease risks, usually cancer, even as it helps another disease. If there is an exception to this rule, I do not know of it. After all, if organic life has chosen not to create this new molecule through millions of years of organic evolvement, whether it be a vitamin, hormone, etc., couldn’t there be a good reason? Therefore non-bio identical compounds perhaps should be tested as the SELECT study did. Not to discredit the original bio identical form, but to find out what the risks will be. Giving this non-bio identical compound the same exact name as the original molecule causes confusion, which can end up costing lives. It probably will in this case if enough men stop taking the actual Vit E out of confusion.
The study was expensive by the way. The estimates were in the range of $200 million. The researchers were very well paid. We, the taxpayers, paid all the bills since funding was provided by the National Institute of Health. Thus we actually paid the entire bill to have an incompetent study done and published, generating misleading frightening headlines. Someone besides the researchers profited – see below.
Part of the problem with media is that a system designed as a balancing fact checking public service industry has become a small group of publicly traded huge companies which have to have profits as their main intent vs. service. It is known in the industry that frightening headlines are simply more valuable than headlines of reassurance. Once frightened, people are much more likely to tune in to that news program for identification of other dangers which may lurk in their lives. When the ratings go up, the sponsors will agree to pay more.
If the SELECT researchers had used a bio identical form of Vit E, they would have been simply repeating an equally well-done Finnish study on Vit E and prostate cancer. This study was done in 1994. The Finnish study found a 33% REDUCTION in prostate cancer incidence and a 41% REDUCTION in deaths in the group of men taking bio identical alpha tocopherol versus those who did not. Did that study make news cycle splash? No. The Finnish study when published in the New England Journal of Medicine garnered little attention in the “news cycle”. This journal is considered to be tougher in their criteria to get a study published than JAMA, which is the journal the SELECT researchers used for publication.
It is reasonable to assume that had the SELECT study used the real Vit E, they would have had a positive result. It is also reasonable to assume we would have never heard of its publication! Aren’t there still fact checkers employed by these journals and media outlets? People who are hired only to take the time to look at the actual facts before publishing or reporting their “news”? In any event, the SELECT study “news” has now gone off the news cycle. There is only a vague memory in some men that something may be “wrong” with Vit E and maybe “I should stop taking it”. Too bad.
Here are the facts the fact checkers were supposed to find:
Vit E was discovered in 1936.
Vit E is actually a total of 8 related compounds found together everywhere in nature. These 8 compounds or molecules are divided into 2 families of 4 compounds each.
All vitamin E originally sold as a supplement was from the tocopherol family. This family of 4 is called mixed tocopherols. The other family of four, called tocotrienols, is not assimilated if combined with the tocopherols family in a capsule and has always been excluded in Vit E supplements.
Many studies, too numerous to count, using this mixed tocopherol family of Vit E has demonstrated a reduction of cancer and heart disease when used daily.
Here is what confuses people (and perhaps the SELECT researchers):
About 95% of all bio identical vitamins sold in health food stores are synthetically produced from plant oils. This includes Vit E. Bio identical or not is the real question to ask for safety and effectiveness. “Natural” is really an inaccurate designation as used on vitamin labels. The word “synthetic” is simply avoided. Therefore, a vitamin will be either synthetic and bio identical or synthetic and non-bio identical.
In regards to Vit E, one of the forms of this family of 4 different alpha tocopherol compounds began to be marketed separately. It is called alpha tocopherol. Remember: it is synthetic, but still bio identical. This one compound of the vit E tocopherol family was even cheaper to produce. It was then marketed as Vit E. The study in Finland mentioned above used only this form. This form of Vit E was still safe and effective, though not quite as effective for heart disease as the full family of 4 tocopherols.
The problem really began when, unfortunately, non-bio identical versions of alpha tocopherol were brought onto the market. Since they can be made from petroleum, they are all much cheaper than even bio identical alpha tocopherol. These compounds are called by several names on labels. These are the ones that increases cancer risk. The names for them are:
all racemic alpha tocopherol acetate[or succinate]
dl tocopheral acetate[or succinate]
alpha tocopherol succinate[or acetate].
Anytime racemic, dl acetate, or succinate appears on a vitamin E label, DO NOT BUY IT. Guess which one is the sole compound the SELECT researchers used? Number one above: all racemic alpha tocopherol acetate. I do not know about you, but if I went into a pharmacy to buy Vit E and saw that name in the fine print as “Vit E” that would be my version of a scary headline!
But from their perspective, why not? After all, it is a commonly sold compound labeled Vit E in the USA. It certainly saved them a lot of money in supplying that vitamin E instead of the bio identical one used in the Finnish study. Now that the $200 million has been spent to prove what someone familiar with Natural Medicine would have strongly suspected without spending a dime, shouldn’t its sale at least now be banned? Going by the past history of the “game” described above, the dangerous non-bio identical compound will stay on the market. There is no proven motive to take it off the market. Since it is so much cheaper, there is more profit even if the price the customer pays is less. The media does not care; they only want the scary headlines. Thus expect the beneficial bio identical version will continue to be viewed with new skepticism and the Finnish study will not be reconsidered. But we can still refuse to buy the vitamins that have these compounds on their label!!!
Action to take
Take a mixed tocopherol of the 4 compounds of the tocopherol family. Unique E is an excellent brand. This is a trustworthy company, and I have used their product confidently for many years.
Taking alpha tocopherol alone is safe, but the protection against heart disease is lessened without the use of the mixed tocopherol.
There are other companies with good mixed tocopherol. Call for more information.
Review the article on Vitimin E by Dr. Andreas Papas on my website.
By the way, I presume the researchers, news producers, and newscasters are all probably decent people doing the best that they can. They do not know what they do not know. I, as a doctor, was once in their position. But we all need to be called to task at some point.
This really is their time. Not to be more scientifically objective while spending so much money is shameful.
Wishing you all the best in health and well being.
Dr. Paul Lynn, MD