Bone of Contention

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Science  16 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6074, pp. 1280
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6074.1280-c
CREDIT: FUJITA ET AL., NAT. MED. 18, 10.1038/NM.2659 (2012)

Vitamin E is a widely used dietary supplement because its antioxidant activity is thought to benefit cardiovascular health. As is true for many supplements, vitamin E's health effects are complex; its role in bone metabolism has been particularly controversial. Two independent studies support the view that the form of vitamin E used in most supplements (α-tocopherol) may adversely affect bone. Fujita et al. found that mice lacking α-tocopherol transfer protein, a model of vitamin E deficiency, had a higher bone mass than controls, because of reduced activity of bone-resorbing cells called osteoclasts. Wild-type mice fed a diet supplemented with α-tocopherol showed a 20% reduction in bone mass as compared to controls; however, the mice were young and undergoing rapid bone growth, so the relevance to effects in adult humans is uncertain. However, data derived from a cross-sectional study of postmenopausal women, about half taking vitamin E, are broadly consistent with the mouse work. Association between serum levels of α-tocopherol, γ-tocopherol, and markers of bone formation and turnover in the women led Hamidi et al. to postulate that vitamin E supplements may negatively affect bone formation.

Nat. Med. 18, 10.1038/nm.2659 (2012); J. Bone Miner. Res. 27, 10.1002/jbmr.1566 (2012).

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