Heart DiseaseStrokeVitamins

Vitamins E and C fail to prevent heart disease

Those are the findings of the Physicians’ Health Study II — an 8-year study of vitamin E and vitamin C in men.

Should we apply these findings to everyone?

First, the details.

  • 14,641 older adult men were randomly assigned to a treatment group.
    • Vitamin E 400 IU of every other day + vitamin C 500 mg of daily
    • Vitamin E 400 IU of every other day + vitamin C placebo
    • Vitamin E placebo + vitamin C 500 mg of daily
    • Placebo vitamin E and vitamin C
  • All but about 5% of the participants had low risk for cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke, need for a coronary revascularization procedure) at the start of the study.
  • The patients were followed an average of 8 years.
  • The patients and researchers did not know the treatment given — double-blind.

And, the results.

  • Neither vitamin E nor vitamin C reduced heart attacks, stroke, death due to cardiovascular causes, congestive heart failure, angina, or the need for coronary revascularization.
  • Neither vitamin E nor vitamin C had a significant effect on death due to any cause.
  • After adjusting for the levels of risk for cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, there was still no effect of vitamins E or C.
  • Vitamin E was associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke due to bleeding from the vessels in the brain.

The bottom line?
These results are important because some earlier studies suggested there might be benefit from taking vitamin C or E.

However, the results from this first long-term study of a large group of men “provide no support for the use of these supplements in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in middle-aged and older men,” according to the authors.

Do these results apply to all vitamin E preparations?

Maybe not. This study used synthetic vitamin E (all-rac-alpha-tocopheryl acetate). Whereas more recent studies have used natural source vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate).

Also, these results should not be extended to people with diabetes, where it has been shown that selected diabetic patients with the Hp 2-2 genotype benefit from taking high doses of vitamin E. I’m at the American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans today, where more supporting data for vitamin E in selected diabetic patients are being presented.

11/10/08 11;08 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.