Summary: A riveting article documenting the success of vitamin E therapy in the treatment of heart disease, published by the British journal Popular Science Digest. The key to this success, the authors emphasize, is the use of natural vitamin E over synthetic, the former having been shown to be “highly effective in the treatment of coronary disease, the incidence of which appears to be linked with a deficiency of vitamin E in the diet dating from the beginning of the century, when millers discarded vitamin E in the processing of grain.” While the authors mistakenly confuse isolated natural alpha-tocopherol with the natural vitamin E complex (which includes alpha-tocopherol but other factors in addition), they sum the case for natural vitamin therapy over pharmaceutical drugs brilliantly: “Alpha tocopherol (vitamin E) therapy has the distinctive feature of improving the function of damaged hearts by attacking the underlying pathological changes. Heretofore, the drugs at the disposal of the cardiologist such as digitalis, quinidine, the mercurial diuretics, and nitro-glycerine have helped to re-establish more normal function, but have left the basic pathology unaltered.” In other words, vitamins treat the cause, not the symptoms, as drugs do. The overwhelming clinical success reported in treating heart disease with vitamin E, the article concludes, “is a case for the closest and completely unbiased examination, by those competent to do so, of the claims of those who have developed and sponsored vitamin E therapy.” Words that still ring true today. From Popular Science Digest, 1953. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 40A.[The following is a transcription of the original Archives document. To view or download the original document, click here.]
Natural Vitamin E for Heart Diseases
Some Medical Authorities Say This Is a Cure for Heart Disease—Number One Killer of Our Time
Popular Science Digest will not publish any medical news that does not appear to be in the public interest or that has not been sponsored by competent and reliable authority.
That is not to say, however, that we will avoid everything controversial. On the contrary we will sometimes give publicity to developments that may be in dispute—including medical matters—provided that there is a reasonable body of skilled and responsible scientific opinion behind them.
Disapproval of the British Medical Association
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) is a case in point. The British Medical Association (BMA) frowns on it. Professional journals controlled by the BMA refuse to accept advertisements for it or publish clinical articles endorsing its value.
On the other hand, some leading professional journals in different parts of the world, including The Lancet and The Practitioner, accept advertisements and carry clinical articles. Nearly three-quarters of the medical profession in Canada, so it is claimed, prescribe vitamin E for cardiovascular conditions. During the last few years, 122 independent reports have been published in the world’s medical journals in support of vitamin E. Wholesale druggists in the United Kingdom carry stocks. Many English doctors prescribe it. It was discovered and developed by doctors.
Patients Treated in Canada and U.K.
By the end of March 1952, over 8,600 cardiovascular patients had been treated at the Shute Institute in Canada, including more than 160 physicians as personal patients. In the United Kingdom, some thousands of cardiacs have been treated since the introduction of the therapy to the British medical profession in 1948.
There is, therefore, in our opinion, a sufficient weight of professional approval to warrant a factual and objective report. The information we give is as supplied to us by the Bioglan Laboratories of Hertford (England).
Origin of Vitamin E
Original experiments, some 19 years ago, were carried out with wheat germ oil, but the natural vitamin E of high and reliable potency in use today is derived from vegetable oils other than wheat germ. Vitamin E has also been synthesized, but the synthetic E is not commonly used for heart disease because in high dosage it is not well tolerated by most patients.
The natural vitamin E, it is claimed, has been demonstrated to be highly effective in the treatment of coronary disease, the incidence of which appears to be linked with a deficiency of vitamin E in the diet dating from the beginning of the century, when millers discarded vitamin E in the processing of grain. The incidence of coronary disease is low in those countries of the world where the population still eats whole grain.
Vitamin E Therapy Improves Damaged Hearts
Alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) therapy has the distinctive feature of improving the function of damaged hearts by attacking the underlying pathological changes.
Heretofore, the drugs at the disposal of the cardiologist—such as digitalis, quinidine, the mercurial diuretics, and nitroglycerin—have helped to reestablish more normal function but have left the basic pathology unaltered.
Alpha-tocopherol therapy, therefore, opened up a new era in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Cardiac patients show symptomatic improvement because the underlying pathology is altered, and function then becomes the measure of the degree of actual improvement.
Some of the Claims
Results achieved in thousands of patients treated with alpha-tocopherol—cases of every common type of heart disease and displaying virtually every known complication and every degree of severity—have led to the following claims for its efficacy:
- Alpha-tocopherol is the most effective known medication in the treatment of heart disease and certainly the safest.
- The percentage of cases that show improvement following its administration is high (over 80 percent).
- The degree of improvement—even in the worst cases—is often marked and allows a return to activity in many cases of great disability.
- Improvement continues for months, even years.
Mode of Action of Alpha-Tocopherol
Much is already known of the mode of action of the tocopherols; the volume of scientific literature on the subject is already large. The evidence goes to show that alpha-tocopherol:
- Decreases the anoxia of the cardiac muscle—a change equivalent physiologically to increasing its blood supply.
- Decreases capillary fragility and permeability.
- Produces dilation of arterioles and venules.
- Prevents further thrombosis and helps resolve existing thrombi (blood clots).
- Invades scar tissue with fresh blood vessels, thus softening or relaxing it.
The following are the effects said—by those who have developed vitamin E therapy—to have been definitely established and confirmed so far:
1. Oxygen conservation: The pain of angina pectoris is considered to be due to a lack of oxygen in the muscle of the heart, produced by a decreased flow of blood through the coronary arteries. The right concentration of alpha-tocopherol for each type of case decreases the oxygen requirement of muscle by as much as 43 percent. The action of tocopherol, then, is physiologically the equivalent of increasing the available blood supply to the heart muscle by a like amount, so angina is abolished completely or develops only on greater effort than before the use of vitamin E.
2. Clot Control: Zierler of Johns Hopkins and Ochsner of Tulane University have established that alpha-tocopherol is an effective antithrombin, i.e., a substance that helps prevent the formation of clots inside blood vessels. The doctors at the Shute Institute have seen it melt away clots in veins, sometimes in as little as five to ten days.
Zierler suggests that alpha-tocopherol is a natural antithrombin in the human bloodstream and says that it is effective even in normal concentration.
Unfortunately, the protective effect of alpha-tocopherol is not perfectly adequate in a patient who has already had a coronary thrombosis, probably because he has already demonstrated degenerative changes in his coronary blood vessels. The same roughened and damaged arterial wall that was responsible for his first clot may initiate another clot, although the chances of this are greatly reduced.
If alpha-tocopherol concentration is maintained at a normal level or higher by the daily intake of enough of it, it should prevent coronary thrombosis in “normal” younger people. It appears to offer the one hope we have at present of wiping coronary thrombosis off the medical map.
Heart Disease—Number One Killer
Heart disease is the number one killer of our time. In Canada, for example, someone dies of heart disease almost every minute. It kills thirteen times as many people as tuberculosis, seven times as many as pneumonia, three times as many as cancer, and six times as many as accidents.
It affects all age groups. It is the leading killer of children between ten and fifteen and the second-leading killer of young adults of age nineteen to twenty-four. Among those under twenty, there are fifty deaths from heart disease for every single death from whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, and polio combined.
According to current statistics, one out of three of those now living on the American continent will die of diseases of the heart and blood vessels. One out of two of those now over age forty-five who die in 1953 will die of heart disease. As a cause of death, heart disease has risen 250 percent within forty years.
A Strong Case for Investigation
This is a case for close and completely unbiased examination—by those competent to do so—of the claims of those who have developed and sponsored vitamin E therapy.
We have at our disposal the details of a large selection of successful treatments by this means.
The vitamin E product and vitamin E therapy have been developed by the Shute Foundation for Medical Research, of Ontario. The substance is manufactured in the United Kingdom by the Bioglan Laboratories of Hertford.
In conclusion we must emphasize that this vitamin E preparation should be taken only under medical supervision. It is unsuitable for self-medication.
Note: The editor of Popular Science Digest is not himself competent to adjudicate on the claims put forward for vitamin E. But he is satisfied that these claims are made by responsible medical men and that there is a strong case for thorough investigation.
Reprinted from Popular Science Digest, “Medicine and Health” section, March 1953, Alderbourne Manor, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, England, by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research.
Reprint No. 40A
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Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research
Note: Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research is a nonprofit, public-service institution, chartered to investigate and disseminate nutritional information. The attached publication is not literature or labeling for any product, nor shall it be employed as such by anyone. In accordance with the right of freedom of the press guaranteed to the Foundation by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the attached publication is issued and distributed for informational purposes.