Vitamin E Prevents Heart Disease Deaths
In the new study, 39,876 apparently healthy American women over the age of 45 were randomly assigned to receive a vitamin E supplement (600 IU every other day) or a placebo for an average of 10.1 years. During the study, there were 24% fewer deaths due to heart disease in the women receiving vitamin E than in those receiving the placebo. The number of nonfatal heart attacks and strokes, on the other hand, did not differ significantly between the vitamin E and placebo groups; nor was there any difference in all-cause mortality.
This study adds to the large body of research on vitamin E and heart disease, research that is often confusing and contradictory. Some studies have clearly shown that vitamin E prevents heart disease, whereas others have shown no benefit at all, or even found there to be potential harm. The conflicting results may arise in part from the fact that nearly all vitamin E research has used only one fraction of natural vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), though vitamin E occurs in food in four forms (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol). Supplementing with large amounts of alpha-tocopherol by itself may cause a deficiency of gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E that has been shown to have a number of positive effects on the cardiovascular system. Consequently, it appears that supplementing with mixed tocopherols (which contain all of the naturally occurring forms of vitamin E) would be safer and more effective than using alpha-tocopherol by itself.
Another possible explanation for the contradictory findings is that many other nutrients besides vitamin E are necessary to promote a healthy heart. Nutrients work in the body as a team, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. People deficient in heart-protective nutrients such as magnesium, chromium, selenium, vitamin B6, copper, or omega-3 fatty acids might not benefit from vitamin E supplementation until these deficiencies have been corrected. For that reason, vitamin E should be used as part of a comprehensive nutritional program that includes a wide variety of whole foods and a broad-spectrum multivitamin-mineral supplement.
An expert in nutritional therapies, Chief Medical Editor Alan R. Gaby is a former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition. He is past-president of the American Holistic Medical Association and gave expert testimony to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine on the cost-effectiveness of nutritional supplements. Dr. Gaby has conducted nutritional seminars for physicians and has collected over 30,000 scientific papers related to the field of nutritional and natural medicine. In addition to editing and contributing to The Natural Pharmacy (Three Rivers Press, 1999), and the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Dr. Gaby has authored Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima Lifestyles, 1995) and B6: The Natural Healer (Keats, 1987) and coauthored The Patient's Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999).
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