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Is Vitamin E Good for the Heart?

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The problem is, clinical studies have yet to answer whether everyone can benefit from taking extra vitamin E. A recent article on the subject in the journal Archives of Family Medicine illustrates the problem. While epidemiologists have found a relationship between taking vitamin E and not having heart problems, no one is really sure if it's the vitamin E that's wholly responsible for the effect. It could be that the study subjects also ate a healthy, balanced diet or exercised regularly.

One clinical trial -- the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study (CHAOS) -- found a nearly 50% reduction in heart attacks in those who took daily vitamin E. But the researchers can't say whether taking the supplement will mean a longer life -- though it might be beneficial for those with existing coronary artery disease.

"I have been recommending vitamin E for high-risk cardiovascular patients, people I think are at risk for having a (heart attack) or have had one," says David H. Emmert, MD, co-author of the Archives article. "But preliminary results from a new trial don't really look good from the standpoint of protecting diabetic patients [who are also at high risk for having heart disease]." Emmert says he's not sure whether those negative results will translate over to nondiabetics -- and they haven't stopped him from writing prescriptions for vitamin E, at 400 IUs (international units) a day.

For now, he advises patients of the potential benefits and low incidence of side effects with vitamin E, and lets them come to an informed decision. But, he admits taking vitamin E could turn out to be a waste of time and money -- though generic formulations are quite cheap. After reviewing available data for his recent article, Emmert says his conclusion is that medical science hasn't yet reached a conclusion on vitamin E and that more research is needed.

"I was impressed with the studies we looked at enough to recommend it to cardiac patients," says the co-author of the article, Jeffrey T. Kirchner, DO, a family practitioner at the Lancaster General Hospital in Pennsylvania.

"[But] we're still going to preach lifestyle changes. We're still going to harp on the exercise and nonsmoking regimen," he adds.

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