The vice-president of Malaysia-based Carotech, the largest producer of one of the vitamin E forms tocotrienol, says that the recently published meta-analysis could be a positive marketing tool for a 'back-to-nature' approach to the vitamin.
The study, published on the Annals of Internal Medicine journal website on 10 November, found that data from 19 studies demonstrated an increased risk of all-cause mortality from high dose vitamin E supplements.
Scientists and industry have pointed to several limitations of the study, including the fact that most were done on elderly people already suffering from chronic disease and therefore of no relevance to healthy populations.
But others have also pointed out that most of the studies were done on supplements of single source vitamin E, usually alpha-tocopherol.
While Carotech's W.H Leong agreed that meta-analyses are often highly speculative because of the different variables in each study, the latest could additionally highlight the problems with taking a single form of vitamin E.
"We should be taking the whole spectrum of vitamin E, the mix of tocopherols and tocotrienols, in the way they are produced and found in nature," he told NutraIngredients.com.
"Mimicking nature is the best way for supplementation. Like the carotenoids, all these different forms of vitamin E work synergistically and depend on each other for optimum functionality," he added.
Dr Robert Verkerk, executive director for the campaign group Alliance for Natural Health, also pointed to evidence showing that alpha-tocopherol can reduce the body's absorption of other forms of vitamin E, said to be more powerful antioxidants.
Specialist supplement manufacturers in the US, including major brands like GNC, are beginning to offer 'full spectrum' or 'complete complex' products in order to provide all seven forms of the vitamin in a supplement.
Carotech, which produces 18,000 kilos of its Tocomin 50 per cent a year, is now hoping to promote this approach in Europe too. The firm, which started producing tocotrienol from palm oil in 1995, remains the largest producer, although competition from products like rice oil is increasing.
"Even though I don't produce tocopherols I am advocating the use of all seven forms found in nature," said Leong.
The emerging science on vitamin E has been causing peaks and troughs in demand for a number of years. Manufacturers of the vitamin at last week's Health Ingredients Europe show confirmed that the John Hopkins trial released earlier this month had already made an impact on sales.
"According to feedback from some customers, there is a short term drop in vitamin E business in the week since the story ran," noted Thomas Breisach, spokesman for DSM Nutritional Products, one of the largest manufacturers of the synthetic vitamin.
Leong also fielded several enquiries about the study.
"Four people have stopped by my stand to ask about this study. The last thing we want is for the consumer to stop taking vitamin E," he added.
Leong's approach, supported by others in the supplements industry, claims that natural nutrients do not work well in isolation from each other and are safer when used in their natural matrix.
Tocotrienols remain hugely more expensive than synthetic or even natural form alpha-tocopherol but Leong argues that the evidence increasingly supports the need for all forms of the vitamin.
Manufacturers of the synthetic version disagree. "Other naturally occurring forms of vitamin E do not contribute toward meeting the vitamin E requirement because they are not converted to alpha-tocopherol by humans and are recognized poorly by the alpha-tocopherol transfer protein in the liver," says DSM, referring to the US Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board.
"The difference in natural and synthetic vitamin E is only the bioavailability," notes Breisach.
However all vitamin E makers agree that both natural and synthetic variants have a long track record of safety and that industry needs to develop a strategy to rebuild consumer confidence concerning the safety and benefits of this vitamin.
The US-based National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) has launched an online Vitamin E Resource Center to provide members and others with information that supports the benefits of vitamin E and thoroughly refutes the negative findings of recent studies.
The Dietary Supplement Information Bureau has launched a website to provide accurate information on vitamin E for consumers.