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Nuts over E: The Vitamin May Help Prevent Stroke

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Merle Diamond, MD

Aug. 22, 2000 -- Soy for hot flashes, St. John's wort for moodiness, now nuts to prevent stroke? The treatments for maladies of menopause seem endless, and now research is showing a possible link between foods rich in vitamin E and reduced stroke deaths in postmenopausal women, according to a report in the current issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

With nearly 40 million women in the U.S. living one-third of their lives after menopause, many have looked to dietary supplements as the ultimate in prevention, but the study underscores that daily intake of certain foods that are naturally high in vitamin E may be the key. Taking a supplement didn't have the same effect.

"This study shows specifically that foods rich in vitamin E are beneficial, especially for postmenopausal women who are at a high risk of [heart] disease." Diane Tribble, PhD, tells WebMD. "The best advice for this population is to seek antioxidants from foods, not supplements." Tribble is a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California in Berkeley and was not involved in the study.

The researchers from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis studied more than 34,000 postmenopausal women from 1986 through 1997. Their diets were assessed with a detailed questionnaire, and close attention was paid to the amount of antioxidant vitamin they consumed. Although they report 215 deaths from stroke during this time, fewer stroke deaths occurred in women with diets rich in natural vitamin E. No effect was found with other antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin A.

"While one of the foods focused on in the study was mayonnaise due to its high level of vitamin E, a more beneficial food group to get vitamin E into the diet without getting the 'bad fat' would be nuts and seeds," says Tribble. "The best route for good health remains a diet low in fat."

The role of vitamin E in heart disease has been the subject of much study, but not all of the research has shown a benefit. In an editorial published with the article, Alberto Ascherio, PhD, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, gives a possible reason. "The finding that vitamin E from foods is protective, but that much larger amounts of vitamin E from supplements were not suggests that [components] of foods other than vitamin E may be the protective factors," he says.

"One has to remember that this antioxidant is not a magic bullet for the prevention of stroke," says Rebecca Costello, PhD. "There are so many nutrients that we cannot account for in foods, and it remains a mystery as to how these work in conjunction with vitamin E to cause these results. The best information to follow is to eat a balanced diet." Costello is deputy director in the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

While the study suggests that vitamin E from foods may reduce the risk of death from stroke in older women, Costello says that "we have yet to see the evidence needed to change the way we look at vitamin E as a true fighter of stroke on its own."


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