Does Vitamin E Prevent Heart Disease? New Research Says 'No'
"Up to this point there has been pretty good evidence from observational studies that long-term use of vitamin E at levels well above those found in the diet are associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease," says Eric B. Rimm, PhD, who is associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Rimm tells WebMD that the HOPE trial is a well-done study with compelling results, but says the findings have numerous caveats, including the health of the participants and the length of duration of supplementation, that must be considered when translating the results to other populations and comparing them to previous studies.
Yusuf and colleagues suggest that one reason for the apparent lack of benefit of vitamin E in people with heart disease is that, unlike drugs that lower blood pressure or cholesterol, antioxidants may require a long period of use to show a benefit. However, they point out that a large study of male physicians failed to show any reduction in heart disease associated with taking another antioxidant, beta carotene, for 12 years. Similar data for vitamin E have not been reported.
Rimm says it's possible that previous studies overstated the true value of vitamin E or that preventing heart disease in people without existing disease is "a different game" than preventing a second heart attack or additional heart disease in patients with pre-existing disease. "That's a pretty strong possibility," he says. "But another strong possibility is that this study didn't go long enough to see an effect on slowing the progression of heart disease."
Rimm says, overall, the majority of trials are not in agreement and he does not believe there is enough evidence to either dismiss the benefits of vitamin E or embrace them. He says patients and their doctors must continue to decide for themselves if vitamin E is right for them, but adds that since the study did not show any harm associated with taking the vitamin pills daily, it is likely that physicians who support the vitamin E hypothesis will continue to support it and that patients will do likewise.