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Heart Disease and Antioxidants, Vitamin E, and Beta-Carotene

Are there benefits of antioxidants for heart disease? Antioxidants are natural substances that exist as vitamins, minerals, and other compounds in foods. They are believed to help prevent disease by fighting substances called "free radicals" that are produced when your body uses oxygen, as when breathing or when exposed to substances such as cigarette smoke. Without adequate amounts of antioxidants, free radicals travel throughout the body, damaging cells. This cellular damage leads to the development of cardiovascular disease.

What Is the Role of Antioxidants In Preventing Heart Disease?

Vitamin E
Research has shown that vitamin E does not have any overall benefit in lowering mortality or decreasing the risk of heart death or stroke, and therefore should not be recommended for heart disease prevention.

Beta-carotene should be avoided. Studies have shown that beta-carotene causes a small but statistically significant increase in all-cause mortality and a slight increase in cardiovascular death.

Foods Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidant-rich foods offer many benefits. Even though supplements may not provide additional protection, a diet rich in antioxidant-containing foods (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) disease. Foods rich in antioxidants also may contain nutrients such as flavonoids and lycopenes that provide additional protective benefits not found in standard oral vitamin supplements.

Managing Your Heart Disease Risk Factors

At this time, managing your heart disease risk factors is more effective than taking vitamins or supplements. To reduce your risk, it's important to:

  • Quit smoking and using tobacco products.
  • Manage your blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Have your doctor check your lipid profile. Get treatment, if necessary, to reach your goals. LDL cholesterol should be less than 70 mg/dl for those with heart or blood vessel disease and other patients at very high risk of heart disease, such as those with metabolic syndrome. LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dl for those who have a high risk of cardiovascular disease, such as some patients with diabetes or those who have multiple heart disease risk factors. For all others, LDL cholesterol should be less than 130 mg/dl. HDL should be greater than 40 mg/dl (the higher the level for HDL, the better), total cholesterol should be less than 200 and triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dl.
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat (partially hydrogenated fats), cholesterol, sodium, and refined sugar. Eat foods high in fiber and nutrients.
  • Exercise regularly (moderate exercise 30 minutes a day, on most days of the week).
  • Manage stress.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Ask your doctor about the value of doing a blood test called high-sensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP, also called ultrasensitive CRP or us-CRP). High levels of CRP are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Have regular checkups with your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor about taking aspirin (between 80 milligrams and 160 milligrams once a day) for primary prevention.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 15, 2012
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