Are vitamin A supplements ineffective?

I was reading that there were studies done that showed vitamin A pills are ineffective and might cause more harm than good. Is this valid?

Ineffective for what—what effect are they supposed to have?

It’s true that too much Vitamin A can be toxic.

Yes, I’m wondering if supplementing with vitamin A will have the same effect as getting it from natural food sources.

If you have a deficiency, you need to take it, and it has the same effect as what’s in natural foods. Most people don’t have a vitamin deficiency, and therefore don’t get any benefit from taking vitamin supplements.

Oops! I didn’t mean Vitamin A, I mean E.

I am poor, so I can’t eat a lot of healthy foods. I get around 30-40% of the RDV of Vitamin E, so I’m wondering if I should take additional supplements.

It’s darn near impossible to have a vitamin E deficiency due to diet. I suspect you’re misinformed about how much you need, how much you’re getting, or both.

Google on vitamin E deficiency and vitamin E overdose for more info.

Vitamin supplements, even if needed, are priced much higher than food.

When I was poor, I could only afford healthy foods. Beans and rice and beans and rice and beans and …

:confused: How so?

I eat healthy too(black beans, oatmeal, spinach, eggs, potatoes are my staples), but my diet doesn’t give me the full recommended DV of vitamin E, which I heard is one of the most essential vitamins your body needs to function at its best. I’m planning on adding sunflower seeds to my diet which is inexpensive and high in E, so I guess that should be sufficient.

There are at least 8 different forms of vitamin E, and I assume some of the lower cost brands probably only provide 1 form. So that may be part of the criticism of the vitamin (people may not be getting a balance of the different forms if they take it in supplement form) but that is just a guess.

I’ve heard they can increase risk of stroke or some cancers, but I’m not sure by what amount.

I had a gastric bypass and now take a senior multivitamin, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Calcium and I may need to start Iron (I’ll find that out after my visit next Tuesday). It’s not cheap by any means, but I always scan the supplements at Walgreens, CVS and Walmart and often, especially at Walgreens, can find sales. It’s not more expensive than food, but I can drop 50 bucks at a time if I need to buy them all at once.

Alpha-tocopherol is the form of vitamin E that’s best studied and known to be active, and pretty much any supplement you’d find would be expected to contain it. Having other forms might sound good on the label but haven’t been demonstrated to have any superiority.

Actual vitamin E deficiency is rare in generally healthy people and you should be able to get enough through diet. Vitamin E supplementation carries some risk as previously noted. Research has found some heightened stroke risk over time, plus a modestly elevated level of prostate cancer risk in those taking vitamin E pills. The SELECT trial was halted early for this reason (vitamin E and selenium supplements were originally thought to lower prostate cancer risk, but opposite findings were discovered as the trial went on).

The supplement industry hates the SELECT trial and supplement pill advocates have tried to nitpick it, for one thing claiming that “natural” vitamin E wasn’t used. In reality, synthetic vitamin E works the same way; it’s just less potent than the natural form (for instance, you need 150 IU of synthetic E to equal 100IU of natural vitamin E, which isn’t a significant difference when you’re buying a bottle of pills).

Also, trying to increase your intake of vitamin A through pills may not be such a good idea either. Supplements containing beta-carotene (which is converted into vitamin A in the body) have been linked to increased risk of cancer and heart disease.

It can be argued that vitamin E or vitamin A supplement risks haven’t been fully explained or conclusively demonstrated, or that we’re not talking major risks. But when benefits of these pills are dubious and you can get what you need through good diet, why take the chance?

Some of this may be due to misinterpretation of the Recommended Daily Allowance. Many people seem to think that getting less than 100% RDA will directly cause significant health problems, but that’s usually not true.

I’ll use vitamin C as an example, since I’m familiar with it a bit more. Lack of vitamin C causes scurvy, which eventually leads to dramatic symptoms like tooth loss and death (essentially all connective tissue is weakened). RDA for vitamin C for an adult male is 90 mg per day. So how much do you need to avoid scurvy? Nowhere near 90 mg, it seems. Early signs of scurvy (like fatigue and gum inflammation) will appear after one month of getting less than 10 mg per day.

So where do RDA figures come from anyway? It’s basically a very conservative process: the old tests involved feeding someone increasing doses of a nutrient to see how much their body can absorb. Once you get to a level where the body is literally pissing out any added nutrients, that’s 100% RDA. But your body is absorbing and storing as much as it can, which is usually more than it needs. (More formally, RDA is “average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.”)

From a public health perspective, however, telling people that 10-20 mg of vitamin C is “probably good enough to fend off scurvy” is a terrible idea. Do that, and a lot of people won’t even get 10 mg. Some people may be more vulnerable and 20 mg may not be enough. So as long as the RDA is well below toxic levels, public health officials will err on the high side so as many people as possible will get adequate nutrients.

Getting back to the OP, RDA for Vitamin E is 15 mg. However, “Frank vitamin E deficiency is rare and overt deficiency symptoms have not been found in healthy people who obtain little vitamin E from their diets.”

tl;dr: for a lot of nutrients, there’s little reason to worry about getting less than 100% RDA.

A while back the *Wellness Letter * from Berkeley U. upped the recommended dosage of vitamin C to 200 mg. They have backtracked from that since. A sub-par level of vitamin C can lead to sub-par health, and not necessarily scurvy. It is necessary for the integrity of cell membranes. If you do not get enough, you will bruise easily. And I will not discuss Linus Pauling’s ideas. :slight_smile: