ConsumerLab.com review of vitamin E supplements

Group calls for clearer labeling

Approximately one-fourth of all American men and more than one-third of all American women take vitamin E supplements, according to ConsumerLab.com (CL), a provider of consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition.

The White Plains, NY-based company independently purchased 28 different vitamin E products — 19 claiming to contain natural vitamin E and nine claiming to contain synthetic vitamin E. One synthetic product was found to have no more than 71% of its claimed amount of vitamin E, which also was found to be in a different synthetic form than claimed. One natural product had 85% of its claimed amount of vitamin E. A third product was marked "natural" on its front label while its ingredients label listed "dl-alpha-tocopherol" — indicating synthetic vitamin E, which it was found to contain.

It is important for consumers to distinguish synthetic from natural vitamin E, says Tod Cooperman, MD, ConsumerLab.com’s president. "Products state their vitamin E content in IUs [International Units]. However, a greater number of IUs of synthetic vitamin E is needed than natural vitamin E to achieve the same biologic activity."

Side effects, such as bleeding problems that may occur at high doses, could be caused by less synthetic vitamin E than natural vitamin E. The two types have slightly different chemical names — synthetic has the prefix "dl" while natural has a prefix "d."

Other than providing the chemical name on their ingredient labels, most synthetic products do not otherwise identify themselves as "synthetic." Natural products generally cost more than synthetic products, and most indicate that they are "natural" in their labeling or on packaging.

"Some vitamin E products just don’t measure up to their claims, but of equal concern is the potential for consumer confusion regarding natural and synthetic products. People who take vitamin E really need to know the respective chemical name and appropriate dosage for the form they wish to take," says Cooperman.

The general findings are available at the web site (www.consumerlab.com). ConsumerLab.com has converted to an on-line subscription system through which health care professionals and consumers can access the complete list of "CL Quality Approved Products" and CL’s "ConsumerTips" for buying and using vitamin E and similar information from recent product reviews.

Reviews are available for Asian and American ginseng, calcium, chondroitin, coenzyme Q10, creatine, Ginkgo biloba, glucosamine, multivitamins/ multiminerals, SAM-e, saw palmetto, and vitamin C. Other product reviews scheduled for release this year include echinacea, St. John’s wort, soy and red clover (isoflavones), valerian, MSM supplements, and protein/energy/meal-replacement bars. ConsumerLab.com is privately held and has no ownership from or interest in companies that manufacture, distribute, or sell consumer products.