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Healthy Women Don't Need Aspirin, Vitamin E

Regular Aspirin or Vitamin E Doesn't Prevent Cancer, Heart Disease in Women
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WebMD Health News

July 5, 2005 -- Neither aspirin nor vitamin E is a magic pill to prevent heart disease -- or most cancers -- in healthy women.

The findings come from a large, decade-long, clinical trial known as the Women's Health Study. Nearly 40,000 healthy women aged 45 and older took a white pill once a day -- for half it was low-dose aspirin; for the other half, inert placebo (fake pill) -- and an amber capsule the next day -- 600 IU vitamin E for half, placebo for the other half.

Ten years later, researchers looked at whether aspirin or vitamin E affected the women's risk of cancer or heart disease. The results appear in the July 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Nancy R. Cook, ScD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University, reported the aspirin results. Her colleague, I-Min Lee, ScD, reported vitamin E results.

"We saw no overall effect of aspirin on total cancer, on breast cancer, or on colon cancer," Cook tells WebMD. "We did see some evidence of a protective effect against lung cancer -- particularly death from lung cancer -- but that needs to be confirmed with other data."

"Vitamin E does not protect healthy women against heart disease, stroke, or cancer," Lee tells WebMD. "A lot of people are looking for the magic bullet. It is easier to pop a pill than to do things we know protect you from cancer and heart disease -- keeping weight down, exercising, and getting proper cancer screening. Unfortunately, the study shows that vitamin E does not protect against these diseases."

Aspirin, Vitamin E: Not Magic Bullets

The study showed that low-dose aspirin:

  • Had no affect on women's total cancer risk.
  • Had no affect on women's risk of breast, colorectal, or other site-specific cancers except lung cancer.
  • Had no affect on women's risk of cancer death, except for lung cancer death.
  • Tended to lower women's risk of lung cancer. Lung cancer deaths were slightly lower -- by 30% -- in women who took low-dose aspirin.
  • In a separate report released last March, low-dose aspirin did not cut women's combined risk of heart attack and stroke. However for people who have had heart attacks, low-dose (81 milligrams-325 milligrams) aspirin is still recommended as a way to reduce risk of second heart attacks.

The study found that vitamin E:

  • Did not lower women's risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Did not lower women's total cancer risk.
  • Cancer death was not different.
  • Did not lower women's risk of breast, lung, or colon cancer.
  • Had no effect on women's overall risk of death.
  • Slightly decreased -- by 24% -- women's risk of dying from heart disease.

Vitamin E Controversy

That last finding -- a 24% decrease in risk of heart disease death -- is open to interpretation.

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