Synthetic Vitamin E May Have an Edge over Natural Vitamin E

Q I have stopped using your multivitamin, multimineral, multiantioxidant formulation, which I had believed to be the best vitamin supplement available, because it contains a synthetic form of vitamin E. I have been told by a doctor who specializes in natural healing remedies that synthetic E is virtually useless and that I should take only the natural form of E. My question: Why do you use the synthetic form of E instead of the superior natural E?


A Some people claim that natural vitamin E is better across the board than synthetic vitamin E, but research has not supported such claims. In fact, most of the large-scale medical studies finding benefits for vitamin E used either a synthetic racemic d,l-alpha-tocopheryl ester (acetate or succinate) or a semisynthetic d-alpha-tocopheryl ester (acetate or succinate). So condemning it as useless is without basis.

Although there is benefit to natural vitamin E, there is a cost differential and some downside. We do know that natural vitamin E (extracted mostly from soybean oil) is taken up preferentially by your tissues, more so than the synthetic vitamin, so you need about 2/3 more synthetic to equal the activity of the natural. But the synthetic is about half the price, so it’s a better value. Moreover, natural E contains residues of phytoestrogens, which in large amounts can be troublesome, causing testicular degeneration and other problems. Nevertheless, studies using both natural and synthetic E have shown health benefits. “The difference might or might not turn out to matter,” states vitamin E researcher Simin Meydani, Ph.D., of Tufts University in Boston.

Dr. Ishwarlal Jialal—holder of the Robert E. Stowell Endowed Chair in Experimental Pathology, director of the Laboratory for Atherosclerosis and Metabolic Research, and professor of internal medicine at the University of California, Davis—is the author of nearly 300 scientific papers, including at least 69 on vitamin E. In a paper he published in 1998, synthetic vitamin E was found to work as well as natural vitamin E in preventing heart disease. In another paper he published in the same year, synthetic vitamin E was found to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Recently, Dr. Jialal wrote that natural gamma-tocopherol, either alone or in conjunction with synthetic or natural vitamin E, can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in subjects with metabolic syndrome.

Furthermore, from the recent scientific literature: “In conclusion, synthetic, but not natural, vitamin E exhibits promising anti-cancer properties in vivo.”1 And “At least one of the stereoisomers in [synthetic vitamin E] has antitumor activity. Synthetic vitamin E appears to preferentially stabilize membrane fatty acids with more double bonds in the acyl chain.”2


  1. Yu W, Jia L, Wang P, Lawson KA, Simmons-Menchaca M, Park SK, Sun L, Sanders BG, Kline K. In vitro and in vivo evaluation of anticancer actions of natural and synthetic vitamin E forms. Mol Nutr Food Res 2008;52(4):447-56.
  2. Cameron IL, Munoz J, Barnes CJ, Hardman WE. High dietary level of synthetic vitamin E on lipid peroxidation, membrane fatty acid composition, and cytotoxicity in breast cancer xenograft and in mouse host tissue. Cancer Cell Int 2003;3(1):3.

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