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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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"For us, it is fairly clear from our study that vitamin E has no overall effect in preventing heart disease and stroke," Lee says. "Vitamin E had no effect on fatal heart attacks or fatal strokes. The primary effect was that it reduced sudden death. And sudden death usually occurs because of fatal problems with heart rhythm. Vitamin E has no affect on heart rhythm."

"This just doesn't tie together with what we know about the effects of vitamin E."

But Maret Traber, PhD, professor of nutrition at Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute, strongly disagrees. Traber, who has studied vitamin E, says that Lee and colleagues are too quick to dismiss their own positive findings on vitamin E.

"Data from this study show that in women over 65, the age group most affected by coronary problems, the death rate from heart disease was cut almost in half if the women took vitamin E supplements," Traber says in a news release, "[Lee and colleagues] then conclude that vitamin E supplements provide no benefit in preventing cardiovascular problems and their use is not recommended. I find that conclusion inexplicable."

It isn't inexplicable to Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, professor of medicine and director of women's cardiovascular services at the University of California, San Francisco.

Redberg says that in studies in which associations are made rather than intervention being investigated, vitamin E looked good because of the "healthy user" effect. That is, people who use vitamin E also tend to take care of themselves in other ways. In a study where people are assigned a treatment -- such as the Lee study -- the vitamin doesn't look so good. Yes, Redberg says, there was that 24% reduction in death from heart disease.

"Usually we think of vitamin E working by reducing the risk of heart attack -- but there was no such risk reduction in the Lee study," Redberg says. "And there was no change in overall risk of death. When people are taking a vitamin, they are trying to live longer, not trying to die of one cause rather than another."

How to Prevent Cancer, Heart Disease

Fortunately, nearly everyone agrees that there is an excellent way to prevent cancer and heart disease. But it doesn't come in a pill or in a capsule, says Eric J. Jacobs, PhD, senior epidemiologist for the American Cancer Society. Jacobs' editorial accompanies the Cook and Lee studies.

"We believe that we should continue research into agents that can probably prevent cancer. But we don't realistically think we will find a substance that reduces this risk in the immediate future," Jacobs tells WebMD. "And we already have discovered effective methods to prevent cancer, but are not using them enough. Screening for colon cancer, for example, is greatly underused.

Cook says, "You need to eat a healthy diet, exercise, avoid smoking, and, for cancer, follow the screening procedures."

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