It doesn't stave off heart disease, so who should take it?
March 27, 2000 (Petaluma, Calif.) -- When Alice Nadler heard the latest on
vitamin E, she began to wonder if the experts really know what they're talking
about. "I've been taking vitamin E for a couple of years, ever since my
doctor recommended it as a way to lower my risk of heart disease," says the
40-year-old mother of two boys, who lives in Northern California. "So now
they're saying it may not?"
Like Nadler, many Americans began popping vitamin E -- now one of the
top-selling supplements nationwide -- a few
years ago after studies suggested that it might protect against heart disease.
In one study published in Lancet in 1996, men and women with
cardiovascular disease who took the vitamin each day cut their risk of a second
heart attack almost in half. In
1993, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published findings from a
five-year Chinese study that followed nearly 30,000 adults. Those who took
vitamin E supplements were 9% less likely to die during the study period.
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Many researchers cautioned that more investigations were needed to confirm
the power of E. But privately, some also admitted that they were taking a daily
dose of the vitamin themselves, because the initial findings looked so
High Hopes Take a Tumble
Now comes news from a January 20, 2000 issue of the New England Journal
of Medicine that the golden pill may not live up to its promise. Canadian
researchers tracked 2,545 women and 6,996 men aged 55 or older who took either
vitamin E or a dummy pill. After five years, those taking the vitamin were no
better off than those taking the dummy pill, suffering just as many heart
attacks, strokes, and deaths from cardiovascular disease. The findings,
ironically, are part of a study called HOPE, or the Heart Outcomes Prevention
Unfortunately for Nadler and tens of thousands of others pinning their hopes
on vitamin E, this isn't the only study to cast a shadow over the vitamin's
reputation. An Italian report published last year in Lancet tested 300
international units (IUs) of vitamin E against a placebo in a group of 11,000
heart attack patients. While the number of overall deaths related to
cardiovascular disease for those taking the vitamin was lower, the number of
second heart attacks in the same group was actually slightly higher. Neither of
these numbers was, however, statistically significant, making it difficult to
draw a firm conclusion.
Says Nancy Ernst, PhD, nutrition director for the
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, "Based on these latest studies,
many of us are beginning to think that the evidence just isn't there for
vitamin E, at least when it comes to slowing the progress of cardiovascular